CW4 Michael Rutledge wanted to fly since he was a boy. His father owned a vintage WWII biplane trainer, which, along with the movie Top Gun, and the Civil Air Patrol, convinced him to pursue becoming a Naval Aviator. After the Air Cadet program he applied for was curtailed, he enlisted in the Navy as a Naval Aircrewman and Helicopter Rescue Swimmer. After Basic Training, his first assignment was Guam, and aside from deploying in support of resupply operations, he found the monotony taxing. He volunteered for Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL Training, and was accepted. After SEAL school, he was assigned to SEAL Team One, and completed several deployments in the Southeast Asia region. After a stint as a SEAL Advanced Training Instructor, he was accepted into the Army Warrant Officer Program and Flight School. Finishing first in his flight school class, he applied for, and was accepted into, the 2nd Battalion of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the Night Stalkers, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After three years at Fort Campbell, he moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord when the 4th Battalion of the 160th was activated. In thirteen years in the 160th SOAR, he completed sixteen deployments, flying variations of the MH-47. After leaving the 160th SOAR, he was assigned as the commander of the 2nd Aviation Detachment at West Point, flying the UH-72 Lakota. This is one of only two commands open to Aviation Warrant Officers in the Army.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, and his developing love for history, aviation, and the military. He recalls relatives instilling in him an appreciation for the relationship between service to the nation and citizenship. He describes enjoying the challenges of basic training, as well as his disillusionment when he arrived at his first duty station and suffered the dullness of the day-to-day Navy routine on a small island. He remembers his fascination at seeing a SEAL team walk through the hangar, and realizing that he wanted that type of assignment. He discusses SEAL training, focusing on the mental challenges and stress. On September 11, 2001, he was on deployment with SEAL Team One in Sri Lanka, and explains the difficulties they had receiving communications and exfiltrating the country. He talks about being accepted into the Warrant Officer Program, Flight School, and the Night Stalkers. He highlights some of his more memorable deployments with the 160th, and how he developed as a pilot. Finally, he reflects on his service with the 2nd Aviation Detachment here at West Point, what his service means to him, and his thoughts about the type of leaders the Academies produce.