I had the pleasure of training Capt. "Stony" Estock (who made colonel in January) to be an aircraft commander in the HH-60 Pave Hawk. I'd been his instructor pilot and was impressed with his ability to learn quickly.

So when we got the call to find and rescue three Icelandic men stranded in a blizzard in the island's interior, I made a decision that surprised some people.

I began that fateful day charged to check and clear an HH-60 helicopter that had undergone some major maintenance repairs. I knew the squadron commander and Stony were preparing to fly a possible rescue mission, but my focus was on conducting multiple engine starts, hover checks and engine shutdowns while maintainers checked and repaired systems.

During a break, my boss (the operations officer) called me to the ops desk. In a rush, he said the squadron commander had to be pulled off the rescue mission and I was now to command the flight -- with Stony as the copilot -- and we needed to leave now.

Of course, this is what we live to do; so I was excited to go on the mission. But one thing didn't set well with me. I didn't believe I should be the aircraft commander.

My thoughts centered on leadership and safety.

First, from a leadership standpoint, I was weeks away from leaving Iceland. Stony would be taking over the reigns soon. He had just completed the aircraft commander course with flying colors, so this was a perfect time to validate the effectiveness of our training ... and to let him cut his teeth leading a team, in a storm, on a complex mission.

From a safety perspective, while I had been working with maintenance, Stony had been studying the weather, getting all the briefings and plotting routes. He was much more prepared to take the lead on this mission, regardless of whether or not I was the senior pilot or his former instructor.

So, I proposed that I go on the mission, but that Stony should be the aircraft commander. I think the decision caught the ops officer by surprise. But as I outlined my reasoning and he had a chance to think it through, it made perfect sense. When informed, Stony acknowledged the responsibility without batting an eye.

Besides being amped up to go on a rescue mission to save three lives, I was excited on another front. I mean, how often does a teacher get to witness his student put his training to the test in a real world environment sitting 2 feet from him?

Stony had been a good student, and it showed. But what really set him apart is when he started improvising and adjusting along the way, making choices that I hadn't taught him in the aircraft commander course. What that told me is Stony didn't know just what to think; he knew how to think.

And I knew I'd be leaving the squadron in good hands.

-- Col. John W. Blumentritt
AETC director of safety