Early morning coffee in a Montana valley

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jacob M. Thompson
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Building and maintaining partnerships with the Central Montana community is fundamental to the mission success of Malmstrom Air Force Base. Occasionally these partnerships require the base coming to support the community, but other times, it is our neighbors in the community who lend the base a helping hand.

Recently, a UH-1N Huey crew with the 40th Helicopter Squadron performed a series of precautionary landings near the Highwood Mountains, leading to a memorable encounter.

The crew left late in the evening for a routine search and rescue training mission but were hindered by mechanical issues, causing a series of precautionary landings. The crew was followed by another UH-1N, which saw them land and notified the base of their location.

“We had a crew flying about a mile behind us who saw us land,” said Capt. Derek Romanyk, 40th HS UH-1N pilot. “Their crew came back out 30 minutes later with a maintenance team, but after about five minutes in the air, we still had the issue and had to perform another precautionary landing.”

The maintenance crew attempted again to alleviate the issues and get the aircraft back in the air, only for the issue to arise again.

“We were in the air for only a few seconds before we got the warning again and were forced to land in a valley on a road next to an open field and a farm house,” said Romanyk. “Once we landed, we attempted to radio back to base but had no radio or cell service. That was when we saw a light flicker on at the farm house.”

In the sub-freezing weather, Romanyk and a maintainer took their flashlights, walked toward the farmhouse and were greeted by the silhouette of the property owner.

“In the middle of the night and unable to see each other, we approached with caution,” said Romanyk. “We had just come out of the dark with just our flashlights, so it had to have been difficult to distinguish who we were but we made exchanges and told him we were with the base.”

After this exchange, the property owner offered his help and brought them inside to warm-up and call back to the base.

“After calling the base and notifying them of our location, we started talking with the man and his wife and learned he was a Marine veteran,” said Romanyk. “The couple made us and our entire crew coffee and even brought a thermos and mugs out to the entire crew at the [aircraft.]”

The crew gave the couple a tour of the aircraft and talked with them until a support crew arrived.

“If we didn’t land near their home, we would’ve been out there longer and would have had to find other means for getting radio communication,” said Romanyk. “We probably would’ve had to send a crew to get better cell reception, meaning we would have someone climb on top of a hill, which would endanger the crew because it was dark and the terrain was rocky.”

Since Malmstrom’s inception during the 1940s, providing and receiving support from the Great Falls and Central Montana community has proven imperative to the continued success of the base mission and ties with community partners.

“Malmstrom’s longstanding partnership with the Great Falls and Central Montana community better enables us to execute our no-fail mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ron Harper, 341st Missile Wing command chief. “We are thankful for the generosity and hospitality shown by our wonderful neighbors and we hope to continue this strong partnership for many years to come.”

Romanyk credits these partnerships as a key component behind Malmstrom’s operability.

“We appreciate the support we get from our community here because, ultimately, it reinforces the mission we do here, and that is to protect people,” concluded Romanyk.