Story by 1st Lt. Jason Sweeney, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Having an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter pilot for your dad is pretty cool. Even cooler is being an Apache pilot and having two of your children follow in your footsteps to become pilots, too.
“Without a doubt, I’m the proudest man on earth,” said Capt. Dennis McNamara, an AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopter pilot for the 8th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, an Army Reserve unit based out of Fort Knox, Ky.
Capt. Dennis McNamara is currently stationed at Camp Taji, Iraq, where he flies Apaches alongside his daughter, Capt. Elizabeth McNamara, 28, and his son, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brendon McNamara, 24.
The AH-64 Apache is a mean machine, heavily armed with Hellfire missiles, 2.75-inch rockets and a 30mm M230 chain gun. The aircraft is a formidable force in the skies of Iraq, performing such tasks as reconnaissance, convoy protection and air support for ground units.
The 8-229 ARB Flying Tigers and its Apaches are currently attached to the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which is on a year-long deployment to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. The brigade is performing full-spectrum aviation operations in the country, and the 8-229 is its attack arm.
Dennis McNamara served 12 years in the active-duty Army before taking a full-time position at Fort Knox with the 8-229th. After 11 years with the unit, he moved to California to take a job with the Boeing Corporation, while switching over to a Reserve unit based out of Los Alamitos, Calif.
Dennis was at home in Helendale, Calif., when he learned that his son and daughter were deploying to Iraq with his old unit.
“I couldn’t see both my children deploying and leaving me at home,” he said. He called the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. James Posey, and asked to rejoin the 8-229th for the deployment.
“Dennis McNamara and I have worked together for several years, so I considered it an honor to have his children serving in my command, and I welcomed his return to the unit,” Posey said. “When the chance presented itself for him to deploy with us, I was a little concerned with having over half the family in my unit, in a combat zone, and all flying the same aircraft!”
“We quickly decided they could not fly together while here, but at least they could all serve in the same area together,” he explained.
Dennis has been flying Apaches for more than 20 years. He served in Operation Desert Storm and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But for his two kids, this deployment was their first.
Elizabeth and Brendon, who both call Louisville, Ky., home, said having their father with them has its advantages, giving them an extra “support element” while here.
Elizabeth is a platoon leader in her battalion. She said her father knows a thing or two about leadership. Her father had been a warrant officer in the 8-229 when he was made a company commander due to a vacancy.
He did such a good job of it that at age 44 he was offered a direct commission and became a second lieutenant right at the time Elizabeth was completing ROTC at the University of Kentucky.
With Elizabeth now in a command position, her father offers her advice and gives her critiques on her leadership style. They often talk while eating together at the dining facility or while hanging out when off duty.
Brendon, as a warrant officer, is a technical expert on flying, and he and his father often discuss tactics. His father is serving as an instructor pilot for the unit so talking about flying comes with the territory.
Their containerized housing units are close to each other and they often hit the gym together, so despite being on different schedules, there are plenty of chances for Brendon to talk to “Dad,” not to mention salute him, and his big sister, too.
Dennis said his children were “Army brats” who spent much of their childhoods around airfields, aircraft and helicopter pilots.
“Elizabeth, at four years old, told me that she would fly Apaches when she grew up,” he said. “At the time, women weren’t allowed to fly Apaches, so I encouraged her but didn’t really think that would happen. Most four-year-old (children) don’t pick their career. But she stuck with it and here we are.”
Elizabeth said some of her earliest memories are of Apaches and the pilots who fly them.
“I remember going out to the airfield, guys playing volleyball, watching the parties at the gazebos. I knew for a long time that I was going to join the Army, but the one thing I wanted to do with it was fly attack helicopters. If we were going to go to combat, I wanted to be the one in the sky with the gun.”
Brendon, on the other hand, didn’t know until his late teens that the Army was for him. Shortly after graduating from high school, he sat down with his father and they discussed his future.
After some fatherly advice, Brendon decided to enlist in the Army Reserves, and became an Apache crew chief. He did that for a few years before he submitted a flight packet and was accepted into flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala. He completed flight training in September just in time to make it onto the deployment to Iraq.
What does he like about flying the Apache?
“It’s nice having big guns in the sky,” he said.
Brendon said many find it amusing to have a father, daughter and son in the same unit, but he said he feels lucky to have family here to fall back on.
IN THE BLOOD
Brendon was born at Fort Rucker, so in a sense he was born to fly. As for Elizabeth, not only is she a pilot from a family of pilots, she married a pilot, too.
“My dad always told me to stay away from Apache pilots,” she said. But she didn’t listen to that bit of advice and married Capt. Brian Schlesier, who is currently flying Apaches in Afghanistan.
Elizabeth said she doesn’t think it’s that big a deal to be deployed with family members.
“The 8-229 is like a big family, anyway,” she said.
All three said the real story about their deployment is wife and mom Cindy back home.
“My wife’s the one who has all the stress,” Dennis said. “We have the fun of flying. I tease her all the time because she used to complain that I would deploy and leave her with all the kids, so now I say I took the kids with me.”
For Dad, nearing the end of his Army career and getting the chance to deploy with his children, he said it’s been a great privilege.
“I can’t stop being a father, but I try to be a mentor and give advice,” Dennis said. “But sometimes as a father, you have to step back and it’s hard. I’m definitely honored that they followed me into this so I’m conscious of always trying to set the right example.”
“I have tremendous faith in both of them,” he said. “They are very good at what they do. They are very professional, and they get the job done.”
“They are top notch Soldiers,” he said. “Runs in the family.”