Former Soldier, Sailor crosses into the Blue

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dillon White
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
The revolutions of two turboshaft engines reverberate through the cabin of the UH-1N Huey helicopter as its skids lift off the flight line. The 48 foot main rotor chops through zero-degree Montana air and churning snow. 

The three-man helicopter crew repeatedly lands and takes off, critiquing every movement of the roughly 10,500 pound aircraft. 

In the pilot's seat is Maj. Kurt Geisen, 40th Helicopter Squadron pilot. His flight suit is Navy issue from his time as a Sailor, flying SH-60B Seahawk helicopters off the decks of frigates, cruisers and destroyers. Before his time on deck with the Navy, the laid-back Minnesota native flew Cobra helicopters for the Minnesota National Guard. Before the Guard commissioned him, he trained as a combat medic, but now his blood is Air Force blue. 

The major says his career is not a product of wanting to be a big-time officer. The events leading him to arrive at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., were driven by him simply wanting to succeed at life, not giving up and following some of his family's footsteps along the way, including his father, who retired as an Army lieutenant colonel, two brothers, who commissioned as pilots in the Navy, and his sister, who commissioned in the Minnesota National Guard with the medical corps. 

Be all you can be 

Major Geisen signed a two-year contract in the Minnesota Army National Guard June 10, 1988, on the advice of his older sister, he said. He joined primarily for tuition assistance to remain in college. 

He went to basic training and attended combat-medic training in the summer of 1989. He learned more than just how to treat the wounded, but rather how to choose his friends wisely and focus on the mission, which helped him successfully complete his training. 

"I was hanging out with some goons for a while," Major Geisen said. "I realized that wasn't doing me any good, so I started focusing on winning 'soldier of the month.' I also started working out on a regular basis and focused on academics." 

Continuing to follow in the footsteps of his older sister, he joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps program during his junior year of college at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1991. This step led him to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., that summer. He knew how difficult it was for an enlisted person to go to airborne training, and was grateful for a chance to go as a cadet, he said. This respect led him to befriend a specialist, or E-4, during the training. 

"We had a really good time," Major Geisen said. "My favorite part was a toss-up between being the first person leaning out the doorway of a C-141 to jump, completing the parachute landing fall at the end, and watching everybody else hitting the ground and tumble over," Major Geisen said. 

Following college graduation in 1992, and the birth of his daughter, Megan, in February, he received a commission in the Army Reserve and returned to Fort Benning, Ga., for infantry school in the summer of 1993. 

The cadet wanted an aviation career, but rolled with the punches. Earning a commission was a start to gaining the security he wanted for his family, but life outside the military was difficult as a part-time Soldier, he said. 

"Those were tough times," Major Geisen said. "I went from cleaning out barges on the Mississippi River to being a banker to working at Nordstrom's. I worked box office sales at a comedy club, worked for a temp agency; I was a short order cook, a dishwasher and I mowed lawns in between." 

While he was changing jobs as a civilian, his life was quickly transitioning in the military, as well. 

Soon after he returned from infantry training, the Army Reserve deactivated his Reserve battalion, along with all other Reserve units serving combat infantry roles. Before he left, he had an interview with a general, who asked him what he wanted to do. "I'd love to fly," was his answer. 

The general sent him to the 3rd Battalion of the 147th Aviation Regiment at Holman Field in downtown St. Paul, Minn., and Major Geisen transferred out of the Army Reserve and into the Minnesota Army National Guard. 

The major was walking in his families' footsteps again. His father nearly joined the same battalion, but he opted to go to Vietnam instead. 

"My dad always got a kick out of that," Major Geisen said. "He still likes to talk about it." 

Fortunately, when he reported to Holman Field in downtown St. Paul, the Cobra helicopter battalion had just received an extra flight school slot. The major went to flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., for more than a year and he did not have to worry about earning money in a civilian job to support his family, he said. Unfortunately, he returned to a battalion that was pulling flight hours as they transitioned to newer Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. 

"I was a senior 0-2, soon to be captain," he said. "I realized when I made captain I would miss all the flying opportunities and not have any practical flying experience to base my leadership on." 

In addition to flying hours, he wanted operational experience and more job stability.
An active-duty career was the answer. 

He went to the recruiter's offices, got phone numbers and started calling them, he said. 

"The Coast Guard, right-off-the-bat, said 'no,'" Major Geisen said. "The Marines didn't show much interest and I was not too interested in doing more infantry training. The Air Force couldn't get me a shoe-in for flight school. I was looking for aviation." 

The major was frustrated, but a warrant officer in his battalion encouraged him to keep calling. 

Accelerate your life 

"Ultimately, after about three months of going in circles with the Navy, somebody gave me a different phone number," Major Geisen said. "I called it, and they said, 'Yeah, sure. We'll take you.'" 

After a year's worth of paperwork, security clearance checks, background checks and flight physicals, the major went to Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., to once again, follow in his family's footsteps. 

"It was cool because two of my older brothers were both Navy pilots," Major Geisen said. "That was where my whole dream of being a pilot started. I remember seeing guys get their wings and thinking it was the coolest thing ever." 

Since he came into the Navy from the Army, he was pushed back for promotion by a year, but he graduated flight school as a distinguished graduate and was assigned to the Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light 51, at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan. 

"It was probably the most involved flying I've ever done," he said. "You have to know warfare under the water, as well as above the water." 

His longest deployment was about two months supporting diplomatic visits to foreign countries and participating in joint exercises with foreign navies. 

From there, he was sent to Naval Station Rota, Spain, where he was the assistant airfield operations officer and promoted to 0-4. 

While he was happily surprised to reach the rank of 0-4, he felt his obligation to the Navy was up. Looking to the future for his family, he was thinking about the Air Force as an option to move his family away from the Navy's East and West Coast bases, Major Geisen said. 

"It was expensive living and my daughter, Megan, was coming up to high school age," he said. "I wanted to live somewhere with a more family-oriented environment." 

Cross into the Blue 

One day, his friend walked into his office and told him the Air Force was looking for instructor pilots. 

"At first I didn't think anything of it, but the more I thought about it, I decided to call," Major Geisen said. "Thus ensued another painful and agonizing transition." 

The Air Force had closed the door on the instructor pilot opportunity by the time he decided to check into it. Luckily, the 40th HS commander at the time, was looking for an O-4 to fill a position here. Major Geisen fit the requirements. He swore into the Air Force Sept. 1, 2007, and arrived at Malmstrom from Spain Sept. 5. 

The Geisens arrived on a Wednesday. By Friday their children were in school and the family had picked out a new home. He changed the patches and rank on his flight suit, and looked the part, but he was mentally and culturally, still a Navy officer. 

"Everyone mistook me for a 'real' Air Force officer," Major Geisen said with a smile. 

Despite his lack of Air Force experience, the major is making a smooth transition, said Master Sgt. Jay Orr, 40th HS flight engineer. 

"He is a hard worker and respects everybody," Sergeant Orr said. "Every-one is human to him, it doesn't matter who you are, you're on a level playing field. He's a great officer." 

The major still shows signs of his Navy past at the 40th HS, and slips back into Sailor dialect, said Lt. Colonel Timothy Zacharias, 40th HS commander. 

"He still lapses into Navy speak," Colonel Zacharias said. "He calls me skipper more often than not, which is funny." 

The colonel said he is adjusting to Air Force flying rules and has taken on leadership roles such as managing a company grade officer development program which teaches leadership skills. 

"He's doing really well and he is a great pilot," Colonel Zacharias said. 

The expected four years he will stay here at Malmstrom will be the longest time he and his family have stayed in one place since he and his wife, Theresa, were married. 

"I could not have come to a more ideal place," Major Geisen said. 

Finally -- after three services, two colleges, two flight schools, countless recruiter's offices and nearly 20 years, Major Geisen can stay put for awhile.