By, Connor Murphy
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in his Tuesday visit to Grand Forks, recognized the University of North Dakota as “the solution” to addressing a looming pilot shortage and defending our nation.
His work in renewing the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Flight Training Program at UND is the latest development in a legacy of advocacy for the University, says Paul Lindseth, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
The recent ceremony in the James C. Ray Hangar at Grand Forks International Airport celebrated the return of the popular program that halted in 2010, after federal funding cuts. Hoeven spoke alongside leaders from North Dakota’s Army National Guard, U.S. Army Cadet Command and UND.
“From the time he was governor through the time he’s served as senator, he’s always been right there as we try to start new initiatives,” Lindseth said. “We certainly appreciate the senator’s support, but also for his persistence to make sure we get this program back.”
As North Dakota’s governor, Hoeven initiated the Centers for Excellence program, which established the University’s Center for Excellence for UAS Research, Education and Training in 2005. As senator, he helped establish both the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) and the ASSURE Center for Excellence, which works closely with the FAA solving UAS integration issues.
In 2017, Hoeven was also instrumental in bringing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection career pathway program to UND Aerospace.
Win for all
Reestablished at the beginning of 2019, the unique partnership between UND Aerospace and UND’s Army ROTC battalion covers flight training costs for its Cadets. For 30 years, UND’s helicopter training developed as a military training program. Cadets graduating through what was then called the Air Battle Captain Program were put on the training fast track as they commissioned and began active duty, transferring to Fort Rucker (Alabama) – the Army Aviation Center of Excellence.
Appropriations within the National Defense Authorization Act, forwarded by Hoeven, resulted in $4 million for fiscal year 2019 to resume the partnership. On Tuesday, he stated his intent to maintain the allocation.
Now that it’s back, the flight training program contains some modernized adjustments: Cadets will now obtain degrees in unmanned aircraft systems operations, meaning they’ll have experience in rotary-wing, fixed-wing and unmanned flight upon commission.
Hoeven says the arrangement is a win for all. For the taxpayer, the costs of training are far reduced by the value of UND’s four-year aviation programs and quality flight instruction. By achieving their commercial helicopter instrument rating at UND, Cadets may be able to bypass months of Army training. The University will essentially double its current amount of helicopter trainees by bringing on 15 Cadets per year.
“Think about the importance to these young people,” the senator said, gesturing toward the four Cadets who are currently enrolled. “Not only do they get a first-class education, but they jump-start their career when they serve our nation. The nation benefits from this program and these great young people.”
Other guests to the University were Col. Kenneth D. McRae, Commander of 3rd Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, and Lt. Col. Paul Helton, state aviation officer for the North Dakota Army National Guard.
Helton, a UND graduate, discovered his passion for flying at the University. He now oversees the 18 helicopters and single fixed-wing aircraft operated by the state’s National Guard, along with the 100-plus personnel and 65 pilots who fly them.
“I have no doubt that the qualities we look for in our aviators are the same stressed in this program and at this institution,” he said after extending his congratulations on behalf of Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, adjutant general for North Dakota. “I’m sure that UND Army ROTC will once again distinguish itself for its contribution to Army aviation.”
Provost Tom DiLorenzo received thanks on behalf of the University administration from McRae, who credited the University for its “unwavering support for Army ROTC.”
Consistently rated as one of the most military-friendly campuses in the nation, UND has a strategic commitment to the education and well-being of military service members, veterans and their families. UND was ranked #9 nationally among all Tier 2 research institutions for its military friendliness in 2019-2020 by MilitaryFriendly.com.
“I know your faculty holds students to the highest standards, proven time again with decades of successful professionals that are serving us still today,” McRae said. “The mix of education, training and cockpit experience will give our Cadets the skills not only to be pilots, but inspirational and influential Army leaders.”
Though he wasn’t on campus for the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Timothy Brown of U.S. Army Cadet Command graduated through the previous iteration of the flight training program. Associate Dean of Aerospace Beth Bjerke said Brown was a tremendous advocate for the program’s return, and visited UND soon after the recent agreement was struck.
The second in command at U.S. Army Cadet Command highlighted the culture of UND Aerospace in written correspondence with UND Today.
“The visionary John D. Odegard got it right when he built UND Aerospace from the ground up,” Brown wrote. “He established a thriving, values-based culture that continually lives on the cutting edge of aerospace education, research and development, and flight training. This is what attracts top aviation students from all over the country, and frankly, all over the world.
“For decades, UND second lieutenants have arrived at Army flight school ready to transition immediately into advanced aircraft and perform well ahead of their peers. Having already mastered the technology and aviation, they can focus more energy on mastering the complexities of the Army Aviation combat mission, and leading troops.”
Hoeven echoed Brown’s regard for Odegard’s vision.
“[His vision] was way beyond what he or anybody could see,” he said. “At that time, he didn’t know about UAS. We are going to solve common airspace use in the national airspace right here. We’re going to lead the way with the NPUASTS, Grand Sky and the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. You are the solution. I could not be more proud and appreciative of the great things you do.”