DAVISON ARMY AIRFIELD, Va. - A National Guard commander with decades of service flying fixed- and rotary-wing Army aircraft retired here this week amongst the aviators he served and the aircraft he put to the sky.
"The right guy in the right time for this great organization," Army Brig. Gen. Renwick Payne, special assistant to the director of the Army Guard, said about Col. Michael P. Bishop, who served as commander of the U.S. Army Operation Support Airlift Agency (OSAA).
The colonel, at about 160 pounds, slim-faced with cropped, silver-peppered hair, handed over his unit's guidon in an aircraft hangar. Army aircraft were aligned outside the hangar as precisely as the ranks that saluted him inside.
Bishop retired from military service and relinquished command of OSAA Nov. 10 to Army Col. Michael Bobeck from the New York Army Guard.
Just a day before the ceremony - Bishop's last, full day in command - he sat in his office and overlooked the airfield as several UH-1 Black Hawk helicopters flew past his window.
"It's a good view," he said with a smile.
His goal, since he was a kid, was to fly for the Army, he said. That goal was surpassed many years ago along with a list of many other achievements in Army aviation.
"My father was an Army aviator with 37 years in the Guard," he said. "So there was this desire that was sparked through that."
Hoping first to gain a nuts-and-bolts understanding of aircraft, he enlisted in the Maryland Guard in 1979 as a UH-1 Huey helicopter mechanic.
A year later, he put his wrench down and left for intelligence and tactical intelligence officer schools, rotary-wing flight school and a commission with the Georgia Guard flying a twin-engine, fixed-wing OV-1 Mohawk aircraft.
He immediately faced one of the biggest challenges of his career in a tragic, unforgettable accident in 1985. His aircraft crashed, taking the life of instructor pilot, Army Chief Warrant Officer Phil Parish.
Bishop was able to eject safely. "It was a training mission that went bad," he said, somberly.
He enjoyed flying the Mohawk and its missions, but "unfortunately, that was the most memorable experience" in that aircraft, Bishop said.
He recovered from the loss of his fellow pilot as best he could and returned to the cockpit. He flew missions in South America and piloted several other aircraft, including the UH-1 Huey, AH-1 Cobra, OH-58 Kiowa, U-21 Ute (King Air), C-12 Huron and the T-42 Cochise.
"I always enjoyed flying, but I looked to flying as an additional duty and to my responsibility and duties as an officer as my primary duty," he said.
In 1987, Bishop volunteered as a federally activated Guardsman in the Title 10 program at the National Guard Bureau. He retired with one of longest tours in that program.
He helped form the Army Guard's first centralized scheduling program for its aircraft. It is the predecessor to the OSAA, which now encompasses aircraft funding and scheduling for the entire Army.
Bishop said he had to work with the 54 states and territories to consolidate the use of those aircraft. Their goal was to gain greater efficiency across the fleet.
As a measure of his success, in 1993, OSAA took over fixed-wing aircraft scheduling for the Army, and Bishop was there to help in that transition.
Then the colonel went to the director of the Army Staff to organize their scheduling activities on the Army's jet aircraft. He served in additional roles, including action officer for the assistant to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard and Reserve Matters.
"It seemed like many of the positions that I had were opportunities to hit the ground with almost no perspective of what was done before," he said.
Bishop finished his 31-year Guard career commanding the organization that he helped establish.
Today, OSAA funds Army aviation worldwide, in everything its takes to fly and execute the fixed-wing aircraft missions of the Huron, C-26 Metroliner, C-23 Sherpa and UC-35 Citation for the "Total Army" operational support airlift mission.
As Bishop closed the book on his military service, he offered the view of a master aviator and one who managed the whole of Army aviation.
He said he hopes more leaders and servicemembers will come to appreciate the millions of pounds of cargo airlifted and thousands of passengers transported by Army aviators around the world.
"I believe, to the very marrow of my bones, that it's an Army responsibility to support Soldiers and commanders on the ground with all assets, whether its helicopters or fixed-wing assets," he said. "They provide that direct, tactical airlift support."