If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then emulation has to be the highest form of love. Every father has felt the pride in watching his son dress in his father’s clothes, or to hear his son say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.”
But youthful aspirations frequently change, especially about the time the suffix “teen” is added to his son’s birthday.
Only a few men choose to serve in the military. Fewer of their children follow their parents into service. Even fewer of them choose the exact professions of their fathers. And hardly any actually get their first commander’s evaluation flight from their instructor pilot father.
Would that make that person the best of the best, or more accurately, a Best of a Best? It would if it was Warrant Officer Christopher Best, of 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, and his father, Col. Joel Best, Colorado Army National Guard state aviation officer.
As fathers, we spend each day trying to improve the lives of our families and to live lives that will make our children proud. There can be no greater validation of this life-long endeavor than to have a son choose to follow in our footsteps.
That is exactly what Christopher did when he chose to become a Colorado Army National Guard helicopter pilot.
A commander’s evaluation flight is the first chance a commander gets to review a new pilot’s skills and establishes a starting level for the pilot’s training progression. In addition to familiarizing a new pilot with training areas and standard operating procedures, it also provides a new pilot demonstrate his proficiency to the instructor pilot of his commander.
Commanders frequently delegate this task to a standardization or instructor pilot because few commanders are actually instructor qualified. Joel, who continues to serve as an instructor pilot in the UH-60 Blackhawk with more than 6,000 hours, was more than happy to conduct this evaluation on April 20.
“I estimate that less than one percent of Army Aviators have ever flown an aircraft with one of their children. So few people are able to remain in an aviation flying position and maintain a flight physical long enough for their children to actually be qualified and capable of making an event like this a reality,” said Joel.
As sons gain their independence, it may take a little more from their fathers to impress them, but fathers are proud of almost everything their children do … their first words and first steps, graduating from first grade. … This was a first too: their first flight together, and it was clear Joel was a proud father.
Mother Nature and Joel’s busy schedule almost prevented the flight from occurring, but after about two hours, the weather conditions improved enough for the father and son crew to launch. “I missed many firsts with my son because of my job and the passion HAATS required to make it successful. This is a first neither of us will regret.”
When father and son walked toward the aircraft, Christopher appeared calm. If he was at all worried about his first flight, he didn’t show it. On the other hand, Joel was smiling from ear to ear.
Throughout the flight, Joel’s pride was overflowing. Not only was he sharing his life-long passion with his son, they were enjoying it together for the first time, literally side by side. And Christopher was doing well, which made even that much more difficult for Joel to contain his glee.
“It was a special day getting to fly with him,” said Joel. “I just keep smiling when I think about it. And I’m exceptionally happy that he had decent control touch. I was tickled pink he was able to do some of those hovering maneuvers and keep it in the ballpark.”
On several occasions, Joel had to correct himself and refer to Christopher as “Mr. Best”:
“Son – I mean Mr. Best – I want you to shoot this approach without drawing on more power. … That was great son, now I want you to – excuse me, I mean Mr. Best – … ”
While Christopher may not have completely understood what it was like to be in the Army, or even exactly what is father did, he did know he was a helicopter pilot.
“Growing up in Gypsum, it was always cool as a kid to say ‘My dad flies helicopters.’ I didn’t know he was the commander (of the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site) or all that he did. I just knew he flew helicopters and that was pretty cool.”
Christopher had been exposed to the military all his life through his father’s career. But didn’t consider joining until the war in Iraq began. “The Iraq war kicked off while I was in high school and I knew I wanted to do my part,” he said. “It had always been the Army. It was just a choice between the active Army or the Guard. As I college student, I realized that the Guard presented itself with the most options.”
Christopher is the third generation of Bests to serve in the COARNG. His grandfatherretired in 1984 as the chief of staff. Joel has fond memories of being able to fly his father as a passenger before he retired. Now before he retires, he has been able to fly with his son.
Christopher had originally enlisted as a medic because he felt that was the best way he could make a difference – and he wasn’t sure about flying in his father’s shadow – but after assisting in a search and rescue, and a trip to the aerial gunnery range and firing some excess ammunition from both a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-60 Blackhawk, he quickly changed his mind.
“I was ecstatic,” said Joel, who admits he had quietly hoped his son would purse that goal.
Joel never pushed his son toward any particular career. “I think if I had encouraged my son to be a pilot, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “This was something we talked about with both of our sons when they were kids, but being who I was, running HAATS and coming here as the state aviation officer, I knew it would put some pressure on him.
“You learn as a parent when you watch your children grow up, is if you’re too forceful with directions or guidance you give them, suddenly they start thinking ‘I’m doing what he wants me to do, not what I want to do,” said Joel. “It’s better to set the conditions for success and let them know you will be supportive in whatever they do – they need to get their on their own – so when things get tough they don’t second guess their reasoning. … It’s not ‘I’m here because my dad made me be here.’ It’s all me.”
Christopher had no solid idea what his future with the National Guard would hold until he was selected to go to flight school. “Once I became I pilot, I knew I wanted to make a career of the Army Guard. Its great career and a great hobby – one I hope to enjoy for years to come.” While the profession he has chosen is the same as his father, the path Christopher takes is his own. However, all along that path, he will have his father’s knowledge and experience – and the mentorship of the community that has been part of his father’s second family for decades.