Army Advantage Eventually Rewards Aviator


Before takeoff, Air Interdiction Agent James Hasburgh uses a checklist to ensure all aircraft systems are functioning.

Sometimes it takes time to apply those unique military skills in a civilian job. For James Hasburgh, it took more than a decade. Nevertheless, his experience keeping tanks and trucks rolling as an Army fuel and electrical specialist ultimately proved valuable for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations.

His benefits, however, began immediately.

Hasburgh, an air interdiction agent, is a CBP helicopter instructor and his arrival was a long but adventurous journey. instructor.

Dormant military talent now sprung to life after accepting Hasburgh accepted a pilot position with CBP. Soon he was off to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, Hasburgh’s first taste of law enforcement.

Thanks to his service, the GI Bill gave him a great start. After leaving Fort Hood in 2000, Hasburgh learned to fly helicopters at an airport in nearby Denton, Texas—one lesson at a time. Determined to fly for a living, he slowly earned the requisite certificates: private pilot, commercial, instrument, instructor and instrument

A private pilot certificate verifies mastery of basic flying skills. A commercial pilot certificate allows aviators to get paid and an instrument certificate allows a pilot to fly an aircraft on instruments without any outside references.

At the same time he earned an associate’s degree in aviation science. With his certificates in place, he soon became a helicopter instructor at his flight school — getting paid, rather than paying to fly.

“I was lucky to get hired,” he said. “But I got to fly nearly 100 hours per month,” an exhausting pace lasting two years, but it gave Hasburgh the 1,800 hours of flight time needed to pursue his first flying job.

His break came at Petroleum Helicopter Inc., an outfit that offers flying services for oil and gas companies. “It was the best training I ever had,” recalls Hasburgh. For three years, he piloted helicopters in all kinds of weather for Shell Oil, ExxonMobil and similar companies. He flew to drilling platforms as far as 200 miles offshore, eventually flying a 12-passenger turbine-powered Sikorsky S76.

Air Interdiction Agent James Hasburgh inspects the Airbus AS350 helicopter to ensure everything’s in working order before taking to the air.

While the job was exciting, the lifestyle took its toll. Hasburgh spent many days away from home living in hotels or at sea on drilling platforms.  Those conditions drove the now accomplished pilot to seek a stable position to continue his passion for flying.

That’s what drew him to CBP. Now, with 3,500 flight hours, he had more than double the 1,500 hours AMO requires for applicants. Hasburgh applied and completed the required vetting, such as background checks, interviews, a polygraph exam and a flight test. He passed.

Dormant military talent now sprung to life after accepting a pilot position with CBP. Soon, he was off to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, Hasburgh’s first taste of law enforcement. The center runs a regimented program, similar to many military schools. But Hasburgh’s Army background made the rigid structure and curriculum, including military-style drill and ceremony, second nature.

“In my class of 24 pilots, 22 were veterans and the average age was much older than the OFO and Border Patrol candidates,” he said, describing his colleagues.  “At 35, I was the youngest.” That’s not unusual, considering it takes years to acquire the flying experience CBP requires. Advanced age and experience even earned some deference from the instructors, Hasburgh added.

His first flying assignment was to Del Rio, Texas, where he spent nearly four years securing the border and stemming the flow of drugs, illegal immigrants and other contraband.

Then, another opportunity. He became a flight instructor at AMO’s National Air Training Center in Oklahoma City. “They were looking for someone with experience in primary flight training,” he said, recalling his early helicopter experience in Denton.

His military experience kicked in again. The way Hasburgh diagrammed the fuel and electrical systems in tanks is the same way aircraft fuel, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic systems, for instance, are presented. “That mechanical background really helped,” he said. Even more of those old Army skills proved valuable after Hasburgh became a firearms and use-of-force trainer for CBP.

“Law enforcement is a para-military environment, so this was an easy transition,” Hasburgh said, reflecting on his career.

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