Military aviation is an important part of our state’s aviation community. In this spotlight, we highlight some of our local military aviators, who represent North Dakota around the world, and share their stories with you. We thank them for their dedicated service to our country and community.
Our spotlight in this issue features William Mitchell (Mitch) McCoy, a First Sergeant (1SG) in the North Dakota Army National Guard.
Q: What is your hometown?
My hometown is a little hard to describe. I was born in Fort Lauderdale, FL, but moved to Texas when I was eight and Vermont when I was 16. Most of my family are in Austin, TX, still, so I basically claim Austin as where I am from. That being said, I moved to Bismarck, ND, in 2008 from Arizona and have lived here for 14 years, longer than anywhere else in my life. North Dakota has been great and I love Bismarck.
Q: What is your job title? What does your work include?
In the NDARNG, I serve as the First Sergeant for C Company 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion. As first Sergeant I am the senior enlisted leader for the company which has about 75 Soldiers, 10 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, three tanker refuel trucks, and many other support vehicles and support equipment. My job includes planning and conducting training to ensure our unit is ready to respond to any civil emergency, and perform any combat mission anywhere in the world that the Army may send us. I am also the senior Standardization Flight Instructor for all the crew chiefs. Basically, I train and conduct flight evaluations for all of our crew chiefs and flight instructors.
Some of the missions we train and execute include fire fighting, in which we use 600 gallon buckets slung beneath the helicopter to douse flames on forest and grassland fires. This spring, we used them to extinguish flames at a train derailment up near Burlington, ND. Another mission we execute is sling loading supplies and equipment beneath the helicopter. This spring we helped save a dam up near cavalier by placing 2000 pound sandbags to stop eroding water. Every year, we conduct aerial gunnery training, where we fire the M240H machine gun from the helicopter windows. I serve as the Master Door Gunner and Aerial Gunnery Standardization Instructor. This is a combat mission where we provide direct fire to protect the helicopter and support troops in contact on the ground.
A crew chief is not a pilot, but we are crew members responsible for assisting the crew in all manner of activities to include radio operations, navigation assistance, passenger and equipment loading, emergency procedures, airspace surveillance and so forth. We also conduct all manner of maintenance and helicopter inspections.
I am an FAA certified A&P mechanic and work full time as a federal civilian for the Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) at the Bismarck airport. My civilian job title is Quality Assurance Chief. Basically, I inspect all the UH-60 maintenance and ensure historical records are kept on all the aircraft and equipment. I also ensure programs such as oil analysis, shop safety, aircraft weight and balance are all kept to standard to ensure a safe flying and maintenance program.
Q: What inspired you to join the military?
At 19 years old I wanted to do something with my life that was bigger than the small horse farm I lived on in Vermont. I wasn’t ready for college and wanted to see the world and I loved aviation. My father and grandfather had been pilots their whole life. My grandfather flew during World War II and in the Berlin Airlift. They had devoted most of their lives to flying. Joining the military seemed like the best way to serve and get to be around airplanes. I never really thought I would be a helicopter guy, but I quickly learned to love fixing and flying helicopters.
Q: How many years of service do you have?
I have served 20 years in the military. I joined the United States Marine Corp at 19 years old, where I served as a CH-53E crew chief and mechanic, and Weapons and Tactics Crew Chief Instructor. While in the USMC, I deployed twice to SE Asia aboard the USS Belleau Wood with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
I joined the NDARNG in 2008 and was assigned to C CO 2-285th AHB, where I’ve served in multiple roles and positions, UH-60 mechanic, UH-60 crew chief, Technical Inspector, Flight Instructor, readiness NCO, Squad leader, Platoon Sergeant, and First Sergeant. With the Guard I have deployed three times to Iraq in 2009-10, to Kosovo in 2013-14, and Washington DC in 2020-21. I’ve participated in flood duty in 2009 and 2011. I have fought fires at the University of Mary in 2015 and at the DAPL protests, when a large grass fire was started and flooding at the dam in Cavalier this spring. I’ve worked on Oh-58 Kiowas, UH60 A/L/M Blackhawks, and UH-72 Lakotas. Overall, I’ve accumulated more than 2,000 flight hours, with over 700 of those hours utilizing Night Vision Goggles (NVG).
Between the Marines and the National Guard, I had an eight year break in service where I went to college in Arizona and eventually started working for MD Helicopters in AZ building and maintaining all models of MD Helicopters. Primarily, I worked on MD 500 and 600 series single engine with tail rotor and no tail rotor (NOTAR) systems. When I moved to North Dakota, I worked at Executive Air Taxi Corporation fixing and maintaining all manner of fixed wing aircraft and their Bell 407, which now operates at Trinity Hospital in Minot. While there. I attended the factory Bell 407 maintenance course in Fort Worth, TX.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your job/time in the military?
Working with and training soldiers. Watching them develop their leadership skills and become professionals at their chosen career fields.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone interested in military aviation?
DO IT. Give me a call and come take a look at our facility. Not many people in North Dakota get to work on and fly helicopters in and around our beautiful state. Aviation can be an expensive field to get into, but the military will pay for your maintenance and/or pilot training. There is no better aviation training program in the world than those offered by our US military services. I generally encourage the young men and women I speak to to join the National Guard. We offer a career where you can define your own path and do whatever it is you want to do, based on your own merit. If being a pilot isn’t what you want, you can be a mechanic, an avionic mechanic, or engine mechanic. If piloting or maintenance isn’t what you want, you can be a flight operations specialist, a petroleum supply specialist, vehicle maintainer, aviation life support technician, and so on. There are so many areas where you can learn a valuable skill, develop lifelong friends, serve your state and nation, and build a career with a pretty good retirement.