County Fare | Chopper pilot's career remains up in the air

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By The Berkshire Eagle

Thomas Joyner, of Lee, has had an unwavering love of flying Army helicopters since he first grasped the controls of a chopper nearly 40 years ago.

As a 19-year-old helicopter mechanic at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, the chief warrant officer eagerly accepted an invitation from a flight instructor to ride in a Bell UH-1, nicknamed "Huey."

Twenty minutes into the flight, the instructor asked Joyner if he wanted to take over.

"'Heck, yeah,' I said. As soon as he let me touch the controls I said, 'This is fun,''' he told County Fare.

Four decades and three deployments later, Joyner's skill and joy of being a helicopter pilot are being rewarded. On Wednesday, he officially becomes a CW5, the highest rank for a chief warrant officer in the Army. The pinning ceremony is 3 p.m. at the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

Joyner's son, Matthew, himself an Army veteran, will do the honors of pinning on the new rank, returning the favor when his father pinned him as a second lieutenant in 2013, during his graduation from the ROTC program at Western New England University.

Fresh out of high school, Thomas Joyner enlisted in the Army at 18, getting his flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala. He would end up flying several types of helicopters, including Hueys, Cobras and Black Hawks. He currently pilots an HH-60M Black Hawk MEDEVAC, or medical, helicopter.

After stints at an American base in Germany and Fort Campbell, Ky., Joyner switched to the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1990. He is based at the Army Aviation Support Facility No. 2 in Westfield, under the command of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Forces Headquarters at Hanscom Air Force Base in Eastern Massachusetts. The 57-year-old plans to stay with the Guard until his retirement in July 2022.

Joyner was twice deployed to Iraq — 2005-06 and 2010-11. Last year, he served in Kosovo in the Balkans of southeastern Europe.

The veteran pilot had "a couple of close calls" in Iraq, but his skill and training pulled him and his crew through the hostile ordeals.

"You have to be on your game when you're flying. You have to let the [helicopter] know you're the boss," he said.

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Joyner said his first go-around in Iraq was "not knowing what to expect."

Nevertheless, Joyner would rather be well above the ground than on the road with unpredictable drivers.

"Most people up in the air have an idea of what they are doing," he said.

Woofstock to benefit Berkshire Humane Society

Pittsfield's First Street Common will go to the dogs during the Berkshire Humane Society's Woofstock, an annual 5-kilometer run and downtown dog walk celebrating people and their pups Sept. 8. Day-of registration begins at 9 a.m., with the 5K kicking off at 10 a.m. and the dog walk following at 11 a.m.

Runners will be timed by the Berkshire Running Center, and walkers will stroll along North Street to help raise awareness of the shelter's mission. Leashed canine companions are welcome during both events.

Afterward, participants and supporters are invited to enjoy family-friendly activities, canine games, food trucks, music and raffles.

All participants are encouraged to collect pledges to benefit homeless animals, and registration includes a free online crowdfunding tool. The BHS receives no state or federal funding, and depends solely on the support of its community to care for shelter animals and to fund more than a dozen programs and services that benefit people and pets.

"We have an ambitious goal this year," said John Perreault, executive director for the BHS. "We want to see 250 people register for $25, which would be a record turnout for Woofstock."

Online registration at berkshirehumane.org is strongly encouraged. Preregister for a minimum of $60 by Aug. 20 and secure a Woofstock T-shirt. Dog bandanas will be given out to dogs while supplies last.

This year's title sponsors are Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and Benson's Pet Center.

For a complete schedule, visit berkshirehumane.org. Information also is available by phone at 413-477-7878, ext. 131.


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