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NEWS | Feb. 7, 2023

Longtime Kentucky aviator retires

By Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Crane, Kentucky National Guard

After thirty plus years of service as an aviator in the Kentucky Army National Guard, one of Kentucky’s finest Soldiers will be moving on to something new.

Army Col. Gary Dwayne Lewis held three positions for the last several years as the counterdrug coordinator, state Army aviation officer, and commander of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade.

“I consider myself lucky to have worked with such great people over the last 30 years. The relationships I have built and the trust that I have in my coworkers have made all the difference. Holding three jobs simultaneously wouldn’t have been possible without that trust in them to do their jobs and to do them well. They did, and it worked out well for everybody.” he said.

Being a part of the counterdrug operations has allowed him to get over 7,700 flight hours.

“I would say I've had the best career I could have ever imagined,” he said. “I’ve been able to command units and fly as much as I have needed to. A lot of it was luck and good timing, and things just fell into place. I am thankful to have gotten to perform those duties and hold those positions for the time that I did.”

But when he first decided to join the National Guard in August of 1992, being an aviator was not on his radar.

“Initially it was really about paying for college and also serving my country. I had an uncle that I really looked up to. He was in the Air Force and retired as an E-9, Chief Master Sergeant. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and serve my country,” he said.

He joined Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, for the first four years of his career.

“When I saw that the Guard had aviation, I thought, ‘Well, let's see how this goes,’” he said.

He was enrolled in the ROTC program at Eastern Kentucky University at the time and went to interview with the brigade commander of aviation.

“Back then, the interviews were a little bit easier than the ones now,” he laughed. “The only question [the aviation brigade commander] asked when I went for the interview was, “What’s your PT score?”

Lewis had always done very well in his physical training so off he went to flight school and the rest is history.

Now he is qualified in numerous aircraft including UH-1 Huey, OH-58 A/C, and UH-60A/L/M Black Hawk. He has more than 5,000 flight hours in Black Hawks alone.

He deployed twice overseas and has three deployments stateside supporting the Department of Homeland Security.

Lewis considers himself a big family man who cherishes his time with his wife, Sheri, and their children, Hannah and Jonah. Both children are in college and beginning careers of their own. His son has followed in his footsteps by joining the Kentucky National Guard. He is slated to enter the ROTC program at Morehead State University and was aboard his father’s final flight as an Army pilot. His daughter is working on her master’s degree in speech therapy at Eastern Kentucky University.

After so many years serving in the KYARNG, he leaves the organization with a big hole to fill, and he will definitely be missed by those who worked closely with him.

"Col. Lewis has been the face of Kentucky Army National Guard aviation and the counterdrug program for many years,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Martin, 751st Battalion Commander. “His influence spreads far beyond the Commonwealth as he worked behind the scenes to improve the programs he was charged with and made them some of the best in the nation. I personally count him as a mentor and know that this organization is better having had him serve in such key, critical, leadership positions. He will be missed dearly.”

His last flight was on December 7, 2022, in London, Ky.

“I love serving in the Guard and serving the Commonwealth,” he said. “I am always eager to do missions that help the people of our state. I have always put myself in the mindset of, ‘What if that was one of my family members needing help?’ It has always been an honor to do anything I could to help the people of Kentucky and its citizens.”

What is next for a retired colonel with this much flight experience? More flying. He is slated to join the Kentucky State Police as one of their helicopter pilots.

His official last day in the KYNG will be March 31, 2023. Until then, he will be enjoying terminal leave and preparing himself and his family for his new chapter in life as a civilian aviator.

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