By Gari Voss
It took 33 years of active service in the Army then another 20+ years as a Department of the Army civilian helicopter flight instructor before Rodney L. “Sande” Sangsland decided it was time to retire.
As was reported during his retirement celebration, “Mr. Sangsland’s dedication and professionalism are unmatched by the instructors around him and serves as a standard to emulate at all levels of flight training. Sande is a foundational asset to the members of Foxtrot Company, 1-212th Aviation Regiment, 110th Aviation Brigade, the Aviation Center of Excellence, and the federal service,” said Capt. Jesslyn F. Clark, commander of Company F, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment.
The Sangsland family emulated the epitome of family life and military service. Being born at the beginning of the 20th century, Sangsland’s parents grew through World War I, the Great Depression, then World War II. Many of Sande’s older brothers served in the military through World War II, Viet Nam and/or Korea.
It was the nagging desire to give to a body of the whole and not to self that dogged Sande as he slogged through college.
In the late 1960s as Viet Nam was in the news with sit-ins and love-ins that he made a life-changing decision. “I’ll go do something for my country.” And that he did.
Many young men were joining a branch of the military either by choice or by draft. By 1969, Sangsland was an infantryman in the U.S. Army. After completing Basic Training, Airborne Infantry, AIT, Airborne school then attending the Special Forces Qualification Course, Sangsland was a light and heavy weapons specialist. That was just the beginning.
Sangsland found that he had a proficiency for language, and picked up Greek, Thai and Spanish. Special Forces and language landed him in Greece as a Spanish Airborne instructor. This was the late 1970s and was just part of Sande’s military experiences with travel that created special friendships. At one point, Sande quipped that maybe skiing Mount Olympus in Greece and being at 12,000 feet where Zeus lived enchanted him to reenlist.
“This [the Golden Knights] was another wonderful job, probably the best job an enlisted person can have,” Sangsland was reported sharing. “The team was extremely professional, you had to have a spotless record — you represented the Army and had to be cordial. It was all manners, always clean cut. It was a mission I was very proud to do.”
By 1979, Sangsland had moved into the helicopter realm. At Fort Rucker, later renamed Fort Novosel, Sande became a warrant officer flying UH-1 Huey.
After qualifying in the Black Hawk, he was deployed in 1983 to support Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. His efforts earned him an Air Medal with Valor.
Mastering Spanish opened new doors for Sangsland. He became the Spanish UH-1 instructor during his time at Fort Rucker, and developed and taught the first Spanish UH-60 aircraft qualification and IP courses.
Sande was deployed to Colombia where he developed and taught the first UH-60 mission training at Palenquero Air Base Colombia then became a team leader of Spanish UH-60 AQC at Melgar Air Base in Colombia. He also served in support of “Plan Colombia” to combat drug cartels and insurgent groups.
In addition, Sangsland took a tour at Fort Kobe, Canal Zone, Republic of Panama in 1989. As Standardization Officer, he implemented the Army’s first unit wide ESSS ERES training program. While there, he was involved in Operation Just Cause in Panama to restore a democratically elected government and remove the dictator. This included the development of the command rotary wing environmental training program that included mountain flying dunker HEED, deck operations and high altitude flying (oxygen) operations.
Returning to Fort Rucker in 1992, Sande focused on Black Hawks and was able to develop and teach the Army’s Command Rotary Wing Environmental Training Program for the (Black Hawk) UH-60.
Sangsland served in Heidelberg, Germany with 207th Command Aviation Company supporting the U.S. Army Europe commander. He planned and executed the helicopter deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina for Commander SFOR, commander stabilization force support (NATO operation). This required establishing operations in Sarajevo and maintaining a split-based standardization program between the Central Region and Sarajevo during Operation Joint Endeavor.
In 1998, Sangsland returned to Fort Novosel as the Director of Evaluation and Standardization (DES), became the UH-60 Branch Chief and was promoted to CW5 while working to improve Army Aviation. He represented the Center for Army Lessons Learned both in Albania and Kosovo.
Sangsland stepped into Army “retirement” but did not leave military service far behind. He became an Army civilian at 1-212th in various roles which included deputy standardization officer, instructor pilot, instrument examiner and standardization pilot for Flight School XXI.
Serving in the military and being on the move can be difficult for a family, but Sangsland acknowledged the support of his loving family throughout his federal service and the decisions made. His daughter Becky shared that no matter how he excelled in the military, he was “just dad”.
In a recent Facebook entry, daughter Jessica shared, “How do you sum up an entire lifetime of service, a career longer than my own time on earth – over half a century dedicated to making this country, this world, a better place? A career dedicated to making the Army better and our pilots safer. I remember the first time I began to realize my dad was a big deal. I was in college and came back home in Germany for Christmas break. We were skiing in Garmisch, and I was telling my dad about the movie ConAir, and how cool it was that Nicholas Cage’s character was an Army Ranger. One of dad’s coworkers interjected, ‘Uhh, you do realize that your dad is a Ranger, too? And that he was the top graduate of Merrill’s Marauders?’”
Sangsland emphasized, “I believe in the Army Values of loyalty, integrity, and personal courage. Have the courage to speak the truth without being judgmental. It can be done in the smallest ways. Those values show up even in routine tasks and decision making.”
“Youth need a mission in life… Whatever you’re doing — if you can contribute and make it better and people are learning, it keeps you healthy,” he said.
Sande believed that in the Army, “you can have such a feeling of accomplishment. You don’t get it any place else.”
Recently, Rodney Sangsland received the Bronze Order of St. Michael. The Bronze Order is for Army Aviation officers who have made “significant and/or long-lasting contributions to the Army Aviation community.” They must have reached Chief Warrant Officer status (CW2 or above), served in a wide variety of positions in Army Aviation, and made significant contributions to the Army Aviation community.
During the ceremony for the Bronze Order of St. Michael, Sangsland was asked if there are any “takeaways” that he might leave on the dry-erase board for future generations of students when they cycle through the same classrooms and aircraft where he has instructed. His first thought was the attributes of character and good judgment.
“The prevailing thing is truth,” he said. “Don’t lie. Don’t even shade the truth. No matter what the consequences are. Always, always be truthful. Truth is paramount.”
He also emphasized consistency and tenacity. “Be tenacious to do what is right and to seek out what is right. You’ll recognize right when you see it. Uphold it. Live by it.”
And finally, he added be teachable. “There have been people who have touched my life — they’ve said something that just made so much sense to me when I was doing something wrong,” he stated. “When you realize that, make it right. Maybe you’re doing something wrong, and it just hasn’t caught up with you yet, you know? When you know, start doing it right and pass it on.”
Rodney Sangsland has demonstrated the exemplary actions and values for over 54 years. In retirement, his plans are to continue living the Army regulations and values.