In comparing LTC[R] Steve Vermillion’s military career to those normally associated with the Hall of Fame, one may consider his career as being of the old school and certainly not mainstream Medical Service Corps. However, the time he spent flying Dustoff in Vietnam has not only had a life-long major impact on his fellow crewmembers and those they rescued from the jungles and rice paddies but defines his leadership style during the remainder of his military career and who he is today.
In 1969, as a twenty year Warrant Officer, Steve Vermillion was assigned to the 45th Medical Company [AA] in Vietnam. Within a short period of time, he wasflying as an aircraft commander striving asmost did, to continually to be airborne, flying the most difficult hoist missions to landing on the boats the size of his helicopter while supporting the ‘brown water Navy’ in the delta. Flying with good mentors, Steve learned that for an aircraft commander, flying a 24 hours a day, seven days a week schedule in all weather conditions, his every decision making skill along with his tolerance for overwhelming fear would be tested on every mission. He demonstrated fearlessness while not incurring reckless abandon. He always flew on the edge ever so aware that one mistake could be fatal one. He never hesitated to fly an unsecure hoist mission or land in a hot Landing Zone if the patient status was reported as “urgent”. His skills as a pilot and leader enabled him to fly the aircraft into and out of landing zones where others feared to tread. A 1969 issue of Stars and Stripes contained a quote from his fellow unit pilots stating that Steve was “one of the best pilots in Vietnam.” He quickly became known for his tenacity in flying these missions regardless of the conditions and enemy status present thereby earning the respect of his enlisted crewmembers, fellow pilots and ground commanders.
One of those ground commanders took the time to write a personal letter to Steve in December 1969. Flying standby out of Xuan Loc on December 28, 1969, Steve and his crew arrived on station for a hoist mission only to find out they had one KIA and plus another wounded that had died while Steve's crew was enroute. Without gunship cover, Steve elected to hoist both KIAs so the unit would not have the demoralizing task of carrying their dead with them until they could be extracted by a Huey support aircraft. LTC Robert H. Clark writes-“I fully realize that this could have been detrimental to your career and you would have been completely within your rights to refuse. Had you chosen to do so I would not have blamed you. However, your actions speak highly of you as an individual and a soldier.” LTC Clark writes further—“I hope that someday I’ll have the opportunity to meet and thank you in person for your unselfish devotion to duty. You will forever have my gratitude and that of the officers and men of the 4th Battalion 12th Infantry.” This mission was flown 9 days prior to his “wheels up” Vietnam DEROS date.
On his no-fly days, you could always find Steve on the flight line working side by side with his crew chiefs, performing routine to complex maintenance tasks with them—and then test flying the aircraft to certify they were ready for combat missions. During his test flights he would teach the crew chief how to fly in case the unexpected happened and both pilots ever became incapacitated, there was a way out. When he was grounded for flying too many hours in a thirty day period, he logged airframe hours on the “Dash 13” for these test flights but the “Dash 12” never found its way to the Flight Operations.
After Vietnam, Steve returned to the states to serve as an instructor pilot teaching Vietnamese student pilots instrument flying and transition into the UH-1. Because of his performance in combat, he had been recommended for a Direct Commission before leaving country, but that cherished commission was to Armor Branch instead of his preference of Medical Service Corps. Steve dual tracked armor and aviation assignments for the remainder of his career—first attending Armor Officer Basic, Infantry Officers Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College—and commanding for 87 months. Due to his extensive experience as an instructor pilot, and while serving in command and staff positions, Steve was asked to serve as both a UH-1 Instructor Pilot and UH-1 Standardization Instructor Pilot as additional duties.
Steve served as the V Corps Chief of G3 Training, V Corps G3 Air, and was the Chief of REFORGER ’85 Planning Group that brought together more than 70,000 warriors from CONSUS, Europe and foreign nations to conduct the first ever winter REFORGER in Germany. Assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington in an aviation assignment, Steve was “asked” or better yet “directed” that because of his diverse combat arms experience he had been by-name requested to serve both as the S3 and then follow-on as the Executive Officer of a Motorized Infantry Combat Brigade. Steve Vermillion is the only known aviation branched officer to have ever served in a Motorized Infantry Brigade in either of these capacities—let alone both.
Steve’s awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal 30 OLC with V device, Meritorious Service Medal 2 OLC, Army Commendation Medal 5 OLC, the Humanitarian Service Medal and Master Army Aviator’s badge. During his career, Steve served in medical, armor, aviation, motorized infantry, and air cavalry units. He also served in platoon, company, battalion/squadron, brigade, division and corps level key staff assignments.
Definitely ‘old school’ but a Dustoff combat pilot at a young age living the motto of Major Charles Kelly in heart and soul. In 1993, Steve retired after 26 years of service and went on to other pursuits which have included teaching graduate courses in Aviation Human Factors where he used much of what he learned in Vietnam as an introduction for his classes in Crew Resource Management. In 2003, he published his first book on his experiences flying Dustoff in Vietnam. He serves as a pro bono speaker discussing the role of Dustoff in Vietnam and his related experiences therein. He has presented at high schools, colleges, aviation museums inclusive of Seattle’s Museum of Flight and many military fraternal organizations throughout the United States. He has also served as the “Northwest Coordinator” promoting the movie “In the Shadow of the Blade” as well as the premier of its northwest showing. Today, Steve continues on in public service, still applying the tenets established by Charles Kelly in his role as a City Council Member for the city of Puyallup, Washington.