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You can call Kyle Hankinson a late bloomer. The vice president of KCH Services in Forest City, NC—a company started by his father, Ken, back in 1979—Hankinson always dreamed of flying for the military, but school and work always seemed to get in the way. So when he got closer to his 30th birthday and the cutoff for being a helicopter pilot in the military, he took the plunge and enlisted. Today, he is getting prepared for deployment to Iraq, following in the footsteps of his father, who served with the 82nd Airborne. His company—whose product lines include fans, duct work, hoods, wet scrubbers, mist eliminators and custom plastic fabricated equipment—will have to wait until he gets back safely to the U.S. But we caught up with Kyle before he shipped out on his thoughts about life, liberties and the pursuit of happiness.
You are about to be deployed to Iraq. Tell us what’s in store for you in the next several months?
KH: Ken Hankinson (aka Dad) will be stepping back in to manage day-to-day operations here at KCH Engineered Systems, and I am fortunate for his and my family’s support. Our helicopter battalion will be linking up with a brigade to mobilize and prepare for deployment. During mobilization, we’ll be conducting some live fire gunnery training missions here in the U.S. to dial in our helicopters and aircrews. Once deployed, we’ll be flying a number of missions to conduct stability operations in support of Iraqi Security Forces, which may include Aerial Reconnaissance, Escort, and Quick Reaction Force operations. I’m not sure how long the deployment will be, but we’re prepared to stay as long as needed to do our job.
What led you to serving your country in the military?
KH: I always wanted to fly for the military, and considered it a couple times, but never pursued it because I was so involved with our company and enjoyed working in the metal finishing industry. As I got closer to my 30s, I think I matured some and realized the true importance of military service. I was getting close to the cutoff age for aviators and knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t apply. So I did, and the next thing I knew I was getting yelled at by a drill sergeant at Basic Training. The training was intense at times, but I learned a lot and will never regret the decision. Dad served during Vietnam in the 82nd Airborne and both of my grandfathers served during WWII. It’s an honor to wear the uniform in their memory.
How have you been able to balance running the family business, serving your country and being away for so long?
KH: It certainly is a challenge in time management. We discussed those issues before I joined and we came up with a plan in anticipation of deployment. We have an excellent team at KCH and I know they will continue our mission here on the home front. With lightning fast fiber optics and a VPN at KCH, I can actually stay plugged into the company half a world away. After the deployment, I’ll be coming back to work full time and flying part time for the National Guard.
Any ‘words of wisdom’ from your father before you are headed to Iraq?
KH: Dad said, “Go kick some ass son! Then get your tail back to work so I can retire!”
You are an Apache Gunship Aviator, but when you aren’t serving in the military how much flying do you do in your spare time?
KH: I fly all over the eastern U.S., calling on metal finishing shops and sometimes taking prospects to look at other KCH installations. It’s interesting because I am a supplier and a customer to some of the aerospace finishing shops that we visit.
What book that you recently read would you recommend to a colleague?
KH: I’m half way through a book called Physics for Future Presidents, which explains the science behind some of the very technical and complex issues that our nation’s leadership is facing, such as future investment in fossil energy versus solar or nuclear alternatives.