Maj. Chad Comunale
Presidential Helicopter Pilot
helicopter I knew that’s where I
should be. I enjoyed it from day
one. I didn’t have the same feeling
in a fixed-wing plane.
I flew AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter gunships with Helicopter
Light Attack Squadron 369, the
Gunfighters. In 2002, we went 700
miles inland to Bagram air base [in
Afghanistan]. It was great flying, not
just doing what we were trained to
do, but being expeditionary. After
that, I was back in Austin as a selection officer, kind of “full circle” there.
I had the opportunity to become a pilot in the presidential
helicopter squadron, Marine Helicopter Squadron One. You need to
have a minimum of 1,500 hours
and a good fleet reputation. You
put an application in and they set
it up in the ready room. Then, the
other pilots in the squadron go in
and say, “Chad, he’s a good guy,”
or “he isn’t.” You’re basically selected by your peers.
My collateral job is the White House liaison officer. It’s
a lot of time on the road. I go in advance of the squadron
to whatever city or country the president is going to and
come up with a plan. They give us a lot of responsibility
setting up these trips. I’m basically signing my name on
the product that we produce for the president; flying him
and his staff and all the things that go with that.
One of the biggest challenges is to maintain currency
and proficiency in all three aircraft that we’re qualified in.
You have to be proficient if you come back off a three-week trip and are assigned to fly the vice president, for
example, the next day. So you have to be on your game as
a pilot. You don’t get over the seriousness of it and the
responsibility that’s placed on you to do that mission. ■
Iwas born in Sioux Falls, S.D., but moved to Texas
when I was in second grade. I grew up in Houston
and attended the University of Texas in Austin. I
enrolled in Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers Training
Corps) for a year and really wasn’t enthusiastic about
it. They didn’t have a lot of pilot slots at the time.
A friend told me about the Marine Corps Platoon
Leaders Course, and that one could get a guaranteed pilot
slot. It sounded too good to be true. The officer recruiter
in Austin was a lieutenant who had just returned from
Operation Desert Storm. I was totally impressed by him.
I finally found somebody in the military who I wanted to
be like. It was the best decision I ever made.
I had never flown before as a pilot and did fine
through flight training. Once I had my first flight in a
“I had never flown before as a pilot and did fine through flight training. Once
I had my first flight in a helicopter I knew that’s where I should be. I enjoyed