Army Aviation Hall of Fame 2015 Induction - Nashville, TN
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III, Deceased
MSG James W. (‘Tre’), Ponder III, was a native of Franklin, Tennessee. He attended Auburn University for 3 years and enlisted in the Army in 1990. He dedicated his military career to producing the finest Aviation Non-Rated Crew Members in the world. His vision of how to revolutionize the MH-47 crew member training program changed and professionalized how Army Aviation trains all its enlisted personnel even to this day.
MSG Ponder was assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (ABN), the “Night Stalkers” in 1992. He rapidly progressed from MH-47 Crew Chief to Flight Engineer
Instructor and conducted over 100 missions supporting the most elite Special Operators in the world. He was one of the first to deploy after 9/11 and played a major role in all the initial combat actions in Afghanistan against both Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Often these missions were conducted in some of the worst terrain in the country under zero illumination, high altitudes, channelizing valleys and brown-out conditions. The pilots of his battalion always wanted MSG Ponder in the lead aircraft in order to help them in tight tactical situations.
His exceptional grasp of both mission requirements and equipment led to his early selection as a Flight Engineer Instructor. He then developed a Nonrated Crewmember Trainer (NCT) program that is still being used by other Army Aviation units around the world. He consistently worked long hours and weekends to research new equipment and techniques for improving mission accomplishment resulting in his writing and staffing new publications and crewmember checklists.
In 2002 while serving as Regiment MH-47E/G Standardization Instructor he was directly responsible for the combat readiness of 380 NRCMs across 4 battalions and one training company. He was responsible for writing and updating Army Special Operations Aviation (ARSOA) NRCM publications; Training Circulars and the primary advisor to the Regiment Commander and Command Sergeant Major on NRCM readiness and training. In addition, he developed and updated Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), Programs of Instructions (POIs), and crewmember operational checklists. His extraordinary work ethic and dedication resulted in some of the best employment techniques for the M-134 Mini-Gun, the M240 Machine Gun, FAST Rope operations, External Hoist Operations, Amphibious Operations and Special Vehicle Operations which were later adopted by all Army Aviation units.
On June 28, 2005, MSG Ponder was training on the day shift with 3d Battalion, 160th, in Afghanistan, when a Navy SEAL team called for help. MSG Ponder knew he was more rested than the night crews who had just landed, and he volunteered. During the approach to the landing zone Tre’s MH-47 was shot down by an RPG as depicted in the book and movie, “Lone Survivor.” Always placing the needs of others above his own, he made the ultimate sacrifice to save his comrades in distress.
MSG Ponder’s contributions to this country and Army Aviation will stand as a model for all future Aviation Soldiers to emulate. His lifetime aviation accomplishments have significantly contributed to the advancement of Army Aviation and its place in the force of the future.