Onlookers of all ages gathered around Pep Bowl last Friday morning at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to watch the 40th Helicopter Squadron from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. descend over Dodge campus in a Vietnam War-era UH-1N “Huey” helicopter.
Caution tape lined the grassy bowl on an otherwise normal, chilly, November morning. Those in the know sat with cameras and intrigue as they waited for the delayed descent. Others stopped to question the oddly blocked-off lawn.
“I’m just going to be late… I’m just going to miss class,” said a third-year student at UNO. “I skip class a lot. My opportunity cost, I learned that in economics, is not that large.”
Friday marked the last weekday before Veterans Day, a day designated to honor veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Since the 1930s Veterans Day has consistently been celebrated every Nov. 11.
“A lot of people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day,” Tyler Smith, UNO ROTC Cadet said. “Veterans Day is actually for people who have served and are still alive and Memorial Day is for people who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I think it’s important to make those two distinctions.”
The expected arrival time for the crew’s flight from Texas to Nebraska was delayed from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., reportedly due to early morning weather conditions.
“I didn’t think there would be this large of a turnout, Smith said. “It’s cool to see the community excited to see something like this and come out to show their support. UNO is really good at that.”
Around 11:03 a.m. the sound of rotors ricocheted off campus buildings as eyes from the crowd drifted around the sky searching for the helicopter at the epicenter of the sounds. The crowd first spotted the aircraft north of the Eppley Administration Building before it whipped around and made a final descent towards the Pep Bowl, east of the Arts and Sciences Hall. Leaves blew around the crowd as the crew touched down in the heart of UNO’s Dodge campus. Applause greeted the crew which flew up from Fort Bliss, an army post near El Paso, TX.
“The Air Force put out a giant pot of money and offered us the opportunity to go to colleges, high schools and even some elementary schools to pretty much just integrate with the community and spread the aviation mission,” Tech. Sgt. William Sines said. “Our job is pretty much to be backseat drivers. The pilots fly the thing and I tell them where and how to fly it.”
UNO’s ROTC program partnered with the flight squadron to arrange their breezy visit to campus. While not promoting aviation opportunities, the crew out of Mich. provides nuclear field security among other duties.
“We do have a way to mount machine guns to the side of this in two places… Thankfully I’ve known of only one incident in the eight years I’ve been doing this,” Sines said.
The flight crew shared information and gave tours of the aircraft as expected. One twist came around as noon struck and the crowd started to disperse. The crew did not just leave, instead making a few more flights out of the Pep Bowl to fly riders west over Omaha and towards the Platte River.
“We’re going to be going directly home after this. I’ve been away for two weeks now so I’m ready to sleep in my own bed,” Sines said.
Veterans Day has passed, yet the entire month of Nov. marks National Veterans and Military Families Month once again declared this year by President Joe Biden.