Mike Banek

Dolphin and Shark Pilot

Michael Loren Banek, born in Santa Cruz, CA on September 20, 1946.

Let the "baby boom" begin!

I attended Sierra College from 1964-66 ("Ski School" -- Anyone remember skiier Spider Savitch, Olympic hopeful before being gunned down by Claudine Longet? ...and prior summer camp for the 49er's). I was accepted in the Navy's NavCad (Naval Cadet) Pilot program and was getting my 60 college units to go fly Navy jets.

...or so I thought.

Seems Uncle Sam had a greater need for "cannon fodder" (better known as Warrant Officer helicopter pilots).

During my 67-5 class (Green Hats), we had a presentation from returning Warrant Officers who were wounded in action. They impressed upon us that 1/3 of the helicopter pilots in 1965 and '66 were crashing, either wounded or killed. That brought on a fearsome drinking binge that led to 3 of us proposing marriage so we could live off post in marital bliss at Mother Rucker. Not a great way to start a marriage, but we believed this would be our last dance. The dance lasted 12 years for me and produced a daughter in 1969, lovely Jennifer Colleen.

Most of my classmates were assigned to Units in Nha Trang and Lane AHP in Qui Nhon. I was shocked when they dumped me on the ramp at Duc Pho. The place was hell with a pimple on it. The day I arrived, the Air Force was strafing the perimeter w/ 20mm Vulcan cannon fire. Tell me it aint so! A week or so later we were mortared and our maintenance enlisted tent took a direct hit, killing three and wounding almost everyone else in the GP-large tent. Duc Pho was no playpen. It was deadly serious.

I flew with the 2nd Platoon Dolphin "slicks" for 4 months, amassing 600 hours in short order. I was then selected as the unit IP (Instructor Pilot) by Major Tom Wheat, and given an additional duty as Unit S-2, Intelligence Officer (yes, it's an oxymoron).

As a Unit IP, I was giving checkrides in both UH-1D slicks and UH-1C gunships. I usually led most of the company-sized CA's (combat assaults), which was a thankless job. I had to manuever a formation of a dozen slicks or so and four Shark gunships. Always bitching! I was going to slow. I was going too fast. I was turning too tight... All the while, Major Wheat was counting the seconds to touchdown in the LZ (landing zone). He was a stickler for professionalism and when he said the troops would be in the LZ at 0620, he meant on the dot!

I had the best of both worlds, Guns and Slicks. What a gig!

Upon return to the States in June 1968, our Freedom Bird (Boeing 707) was halted on the taxiway to report the news that Robert Kennedy had been assasinated. That put a chill on the cheers of touching down in the US, and brought our attention to the "Civil War" at home.

I taught Tactics at Ft. Stewart until 1970, when I decided to go civilian with my talents. An aviation company called AIR AMERICA (now stop that snickering) offered a flying job in SE Asia for $24-$40K a year, TAX FREE, as a First Officer in Hueys. What a gig! I have some other thoughts on that gig at:

I was a bit naive at the time and did not appreciate the full story of my employers. The movie on AIR AMERICA caught the wild side of the pilot community, but it also captured the determination of that same community to rescue their downed comrades. This trait was also documented in the book "The Ravens" about the FACs who flew the tiny O-1's in Laos. It was an eye opening experience for a young aviator to meet pilots who had landed in the streets of Shanghai during the retreat to Formosa from Mao, and had dropped supplies to the beleaguered French.

Good friends of mine stayed to the bitter end, captured on film with the Air America Hueys on the Embassy rooptop, and their painful demise in being shoved overboard into the South China Sea.

After Air America, all other flying jobs paled in comparison-- in money or in any other category. So I took some time off from flying and got into Sales and Marketing. That struck a chord with me and I have stuck with it since. I have been with AT&T for the last 15 years working on Global Advanced Wide Area Networking for our business customers.

(Webmaster note: In these 1998 reunion photos are Mike Banek with Len Kauffman (left) and Mike Murphy (right). All three were pilots together in the 174th in 1967-68. Banek and Kauffman were both unit IPs.)

I joined the 126th MedEvac Unit National Guard in Sacramento, California in 1980. I then transferred to the 1159th MedEvac Unit in New Hamshire in 1988. We were called to active duty for Desert Storm and sent to Ft. Knox and Ft. Campbell to eventually rotate with the regular Army units, but that wasn't necessary as they did too good a job over there. They didn't need us.

I relocated with AT&T to Tampa, Florida after Desert Storm and could not find any local Guard aviation units, so I went inactive and concentrated on my "day job."

My spare time is dedicated to my four youngest children: Reid 14, David 12, Julia 10, and Livi 5. (Enclosed photo shows sons Reid and David with Mike at the 1988 reunion.) I also make time for jam sessions with my left-handed Strat' and good friends. I recently accomplished an old desire to trace my family's geneology, and have been updating.

I enjoy the 174th Reunions we hold each year in Ft. Walton Beach. I have even hosted an ad-hoc 67-5 "Green Hats" reunion of my former flight schoolmates who were Alley Cats, Blue Stars, Crusaders, BeachBums and others.

I am grateful to those alumni from the 174th AHC who are dedicated to keeping the memory and professionalism of the Unit alive.

My e-mail address is banooch946@verizon.net