Pilot flies into retirement: Brigade master gunner honored by ‘Flying Dragons’
Veronica Landry Johnson,
1st Armored Division Public Affairs:
With more than 25 years of service in the Army, more than 4,000 flight hours and a total of 1,206 combat hours spanning five deployments, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom Bruns flew as pilot in command for his final flight last week.
“It’s been fun. Most of the time it didn’t seem like a job, because it was so much fun,” Bruns said as he described the past 16 years as a pilot. Bruns, the brigade master gunner for the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, retires later this month.
Upon a “worry free,” yet unforgettable landing, Bruns and his co-pilot and gunner, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rob Valdez Jr., were greeted with a water cannon salute provided by the Fort Bliss Fire Department.
“Today’s flight was stress free. We were not training or evaluating; it was very relaxing,” Bruns said after the flight. The relaxing atmosphere did not last too long, though, as fellow pilots immediately doused him with buckets of cold water, a rite of passage every retiring Army pilot looks forward to, marking the start of civilian life.
The 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment Soldiers formed up to honor Bruns with a framed snapshot of his final flight take-off and a complete roll-up of his stats throughout his entire flying career, along with a signed airplane propeller.
“Mr. Bruns represents all of Army aviation and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his 25 years of service,” said Lt. Col. Glen Heape, commander of 1st Bn., 501st Aviation Regt.
Bruns began his quarter century of soldiering in December 1987, when he left the small town of Merryville, La., and flew to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training. He started out his career as an Apache mechanic and crew chief.
It was during his deployment to Desert Shield/Desert Storm that Bruns decided he wanted to become a pilot.
“From working on the Apaches and being around the pilots, I realized they were who I wanted to become,” he said. “It fit my mentality.”
Bruns quickly moved into the Apache instructor pilot career path and later became a standardization pilot. During those years, he trained and developed pilots who are forever grateful for his mentorship.
Capt. Daniel Ball, HHC, 1st Bn., 501st Aviation Regt., said it is Bruns’ experience-based training that sets him apart from others.
“He trained me, flew with me, taught me a lot about tactical training and airmanship and evaluated me. Now, I’m the youngest pilot in command in the battalion.”
A good friend and fellow Apache pilot, Valdez said Bruns is humble and he avoids being in the spotlight. “Tom [Bruns] is extremely competent and has been able to save many lives by engaging the enemy and protecting our ground forces. Yet, he never brags about his accomplishments on and off the battlefield,” said Valdez.
The duo attended warrant officer flight training together and later served on three different continents multiple times.
“He is a warrior, a friend, a mentor, and has had a positive impact on all he has served with; he will truly be missed,” Valdez said.
As for his future endeavors, Bruns said he’s not quite sure what his retirement days will bring in the form of employment, but he plans to be flying in some capacity.
No matter what the future holds, Bruns said there is nothing else like the Army. It is all he has known since he left that small southern town with a population of 1,000 people and no stoplight.
“I’ll miss the teamwork, the pride and the sense of brotherhood,” he said.
Ball said that Bruns’ contributions will never be forgotten.
“He is the man who trained me. He is now riding off into the sunset and his legacy is left with us, the younger generation, to continue.”
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