Local Veteran Robert VanArsdall Reflects on Worldwide Military Experiences
Photographer / Michael Durr
Additional Photography Provided
Flying Apache helicopters was not the first job Rob VanArsdall had in mind when he joined the US Army in 2004. VanArsdall was a special electronic device repairer and worked at his battalion level S6 shop. He maintained computer networking and automation throughout the battalion and supported the companies below it. His responsibilities included establishing radio communications, setting up mobile phones and maintaining the tactical operations center. However, during his deployment in Iraq, VanArsdall watched the Apache helicopters flying overhead and inquired about helicopter flight training.
Transitioning from what was essentially an information technology (IT) department to becoming an aviator was an involved process, but kept him stateside for a while. Upon completion of his deployment to Iraq, VanArsdall and his family moved from Fort Durham, New York, to Alabama. VanArsdall attended Warrant Officer Candidate School at Fort Rucker – often referred to as Mother Rucker. He graduated approximately a year and a half later. The next leg of the VanArsdall family adventures took them to South Korea for three years.
“It was quite the whirlwind,” says VanArsdall, who was deployed to Iraq a mere two months after enlisting. “My wife Chrystal has been incredible along this journey.”
While in Korea, the VanArsdall family took advantage of their location and went to Hong Kong Disneyland and Guam for vacations. They also visited various locations around South Korea, including an indoor theme park and the beaches of Busan.
While in South Korea, VanArsdall spent much of his time in Apache helicopter training with the Republic of Korea Army, also known as ROK. VanArsdall and his copilot served as escorts, mainly to Black Hawk helicopters, in addition to joint training with the US Air Force and ROK.
After the deployment to Korea, the VanArsdall family moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which was their final military destination. It was then time to move back home to Indianapolis, and VanArsdall and Chrystal weighed their options.
“Even though I had over one thousand flight hours, a lot of aviation companies want at least twenty-five hundred,” VanArsdall says. “I had extensive IT experiences, so I looked around and was happy with an offer from Defenders.”
Chrystal also works at Defenders, which is a home security company.
Initially, the couple both worked as sales agents, competing with one another for top rankings in the company. Chrystal still works in the sales department, while VanArsdall moved to the IT department.
The decision to join the Army out of college was due to VanArsdall’s family, who has deep ties to the military. VanArsdall’s younger sister Michelle joined the Air Force National Guard prior to his Army enlistment. His grandfather and uncle were in the Navy, and his father worked at Naval Avionics in Indianapolis as a civilian engineer.
“My cousin was a big influence on my enlisting,” says VanArsdall, who served for twelve years. “At the time of enlistment, several things were going on in my life at once. We welcomed our firstborn, Caleb, into the world. I had almost $50,000 in student loan debt. The Army was offering student loan repayment, a guaranteed job and health care. The decision to enlist was rather easy and I wouldn’t have had the experience I had without a very supportive wife and family.”
VanArsdall is grateful for his experience flying an AH-64 Apache helicopter, and for the friendships he made during his time serving. He is also thankful for what the Army has given him both personally and professionally.
“We had a sign hanging on our wall that said, ‘Home is where the Army sends us’, with a list of bases where we were stationed,” VanArsdall says. “Every time we moved, it was like a new chapter in our book – a new opportunity that the Army gave us.”