The first time he flew a helicopter, John Beaudoin was hooked.
For him, joining the Army meant flying helicopters and getting paid for it. For Dan Loomis, it was a knack for mechanics that determined his career. He used that skill to fix Army helicopters, and his reward was a chance to see the world.
At the annual Veterans Day Parade at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 along Southeast Jackson Street in downtown Roseburg, veterans who served in aviation and aviation support will be honored as grand marshals. Loomis will be among them at the head of the parade, while Beaudoin, who now works for the Reach air ambulance service, will fly a helicopter overhead unless he’s called away by a medical emergency.
When Loomis graduated from Roseburg High School in 1985, he was looking for an adventure, and doubted he’d find that in Douglas County. He wanted to see the world. When a recruiter suggested he join the Army, he “took the bait,” he said. He loved it, and made it a 23-year career of it.
“I took to it like a fish to water,” he said.
He took basic training at Fort Knox and specialty aviation training at Fort Rucker in Alabama. Over the course of his career, he advanced to chief warrant officer.
It never occurred to him to become a pilot.
“The mechanical side was always more interesting to me. I just was very mechanically inclined. I enjoyed it,” he said.
He worked on a range of helicopters, including the Huey, Cobra, Kiowa and Apache Black Hawk.
“While our brother and sister aviators are walking out the hangar with their helmet and flight bag and stuff, we’re the ones that are making sure that aircraft is ready for them,” he said.
He also worked with drones when they came into use.
His first overseas assignment was to Germany during the Cold War, when the wall still ran through the country, separating East from West. He left there just months before the wall came down. Ten years later he returned and was amazed to see how drab East Germany looked.
“You could tell that they had spent very little money and effort on staying with the times over there while the Russians were in charge,” he said.
He also served in Panama, where he supervised aircraft maintenance. He left Panama before the Americans removed Manuel Noriega from power. But while he was there, Noriega’s forces “took a pot shot” at one of the helicopters. He wasn’t in the helicopter at the time, but he pulled the bullet out when it returned to the base, and he felt it was his first taste of combat. At the time, officers told him not to say anything about it because it could become an international incident.
He returned to America, where he became an instructor, teaching student pilots about aircraft systems. He advanced to warrant officer, and he met his wife Dawnetta, who was also in the Army. She joined him on his second assignment in Germany. The newlyweds were able to travel and see a lot of the world. He was deployed to Kosovo for a few months during that time, too.
Loomis next went to Texas, where he studied a civilian depot operation where Army helicopters and components were overhauled.
While he had been on peacekeeping missions to Kosovo and Panama, his first real combat situation would come in 2004, when he was deployed for one year to Iraq as a core aviation logistics officer. That meant he reported to a three-star general and kept track of exactly how many helicopters, fixed-wing planes and drones were mission ready, and for those that weren’t ready, what parts and repairs they needed to get ready.
It was his 19th year in the military.
“It’s sort of satisfying, after 19 years of training for war, to go to war and actually have such a great responsibility during that. It was a culmination of all those years of training hard to become the best at my field,” he said.
It was also terrifying. The base, the LSA Anaconda in Balad, was nicknamed “Mortaritaville,” because it received indirect fire from grenades and mortars five to seven times a day.
“They were all random. We never knew where they were going to land, never knew who was going to have their last day each day. You get numb. You just drive on like it’s not going to be an issue for you that day,” Loomis said.
He distracted himself by singing with the Sunday praise and worship team, something he still does in his home church, Father’s House in Sutherlin. Among his favorite songs in Iraq was “Let it Rain.”
He survived Iraq in tact, but afterward, in Killeen, Texas in 2006, he suffered a motorcycle accident that broke two ribs and a collarbone.
“I was inexperienced and improperly braked and went over the handlebars. Then I courageously laid on the pavement and cushioned my motorcycle’s fall,” he said.
Though he has a sense of humor about it, the accident meant he wouldn’t be going on a planned second deployment to Iraq. In 2008, he retired from the military. He went to work for the Department of Defense as a crash investigator. In 2013, he returned to his home county. He and his wife live in Umpqua.
Loomis sees his military experience as an amazing privilege. He felt the need to give something back, to continue serving, so he has become involved in multiple veterans groups here. He said it feels great to live in a place that honors veterans.
“It’s kind of satisfying to move back to a place that has such a big turnout and showing for Veterans Day,” he said.
Beaudoin first studied to become an architect at Arizona State University. He took some flying courses, with fixed-wing aircraft, and liked it. But it was when he first had the chance to fly a helicopter that everything changed.
For Beaudoin, joining the Army wasn’t about seeing the world. He’d seen quite a bit of the world as a kid, because his stepdad worked on large construction projects around the world, including in Iran and Algeria.
For Beaudoin, joining the Army meant having the chance to do what he loved — fly helicopters – and get paid for it. What’s great about helicopters, he said, is they can be maneuvered “any way you want.”
“I suppose the closest thing you could imagine to flying in the world of nature would be a bumblebee or a hummingbird, because you can fly backwards, sideways, you can go straight up and down. I mean a helicopter is the most maneuverable machine in the world, and to be able to control that, for me it was just amazing,” he said.
In 1992, he was a college graduate living in Roseburg, where his father lived, when he was recruited to join the Army. He had friends who had gone into debt to become helicopter pilots, but now he wouldn’t have to do that.
He served eight years, joining at the tail end of the first Gulf War, and leaving in 2000, just a year before 9/11, so he missed the second Gulf War, too.
After flight school at Fort Rucker, he was first stationed in Korea, and then in Hawaii. He was an EMS pilot in both places. He would go on to become a warrant officer and a flight instructor. During his time at Hawaii, he was deployed to Haiti for Uphold Democracy. Haiti was trying to restore its rightful president to power after rebels had overthrown the government.
Beaudoin’s job was to pilot helicopters doing medical evacuations. Mostly he flew U.S. soldiers to the hospital when they were hurt in battle or accidents. Mostly, it was accidents.
“There wasn’t really much of a fight, because when we arrived the rebels ran for the hills. The ones that weren’t captured or killed were in hiding. They didn’t come out and bother us,” he said.
The tough part was landing, because armed soldiers needed to surround the helicopter every time.
“We couldn’t just land and pick up someone that had been in a fight or in an accident. We had to have security around us because the people, you never knew who was good and who was bad,” he said.
As far as he knows, he was never shot at during his Haiti service, but it’s hard to say for sure.
“The helicopter’s so loud that, unless they hit you, you wouldn’t know they were shooting,” he said.
He flew the helicopter low and fast. If he were at higher elevation, the cone of sound would be larger and there would be more time for shooters to take aim. Flying fast and close to the ground, you’re already past them before they have time to take aim, he said.
After leaving the Army in 2000, he became a civilian EMS helicopter pilot. He also spent several years transporting people to their ships as a Columbia Bar helicopter pilot in Astoria. It was difficult work, because he had to drop them onto their ships using a hoist, often in terrible weather with heavy winds and rain. He moved to Roseburg last year to become a pilot for Reach. It’s rewarding work transporting people with medical emergencies to the places where they can get help, he said. He was also glad to return to Douglas County.
“One of the benefits of moving back here was I feel like this community really supports veterans and supports the military,” he said. “I love the attitude around here.”