Flying with the United States Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Nightstalkers,” were some of the most rewarding and intense years of my professional Army career. These are the men and women who, when the President asks in hushed tones if we have the capability to fly specially adapted helicopters into the darkest corners of the globe, raise their hands and volunteer for missions no one else will try.

A few years ago, I was a pilot and the commander of a helicopter task force in Kandahar, Afghanistan, meaning I was legally and morally responsible for the safeguarding and employment of 8 aircraft and about 130 specially trained soldiers. We normally fly exclusively at night using Night Vision Goggles to maintain the element of surprise, and on this particular night, we’d been asked to insert a group of Army Green Berets deep into enemy held territory to collect intelligence; a somewhat routine combat mission.

Our crew consisted of 3 of the most experienced Nightstalkers in our unit, myself excluded. I’d been in the unit for almost 6 years at this point, but Doc McNabb, Monty, and Nick’s combined experience exceeded 40 years.