Col. Mike Petrash could barely believe his luck when he learned one one of the soldiers scheduled to arrive by helicopter in Victoria on Monday was a close friend of his son's.

In fact, it had been about four years since he had last seen Capt. Trevor Askins, who attended  the U.S. Military Academy West Point with his son, Capt. Michael Petrash II.

"We happened to come down to Texas. They happened to message me, and they are here – just like that," said a grinning Askins, adding, "I set foot in Texas and the first people I see are the Petrashes."

"I'm smiling inside and outside right now," said Petrash, 63, of Victoria, and director of the annual Field of Honor display.

Michael Petrash II was promoted to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army, according to his father, Col. Mike Petrash, director of the Warrior’s…

Monday, Askins, a helicopter pilot, and more than a 100 fellow members of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade arrived at the Victoria Regional Airport via about a dozen Army-green helicopters.

Master Sgt. Lynn Mills said the group was in the process of moving their helicopters, which had come by ship to Corpus Christi and were then flown to Victoria. After stopping in Victoria for a period of time that Mills declined to reveal, the soldiers and the refueled helicopters would depart for Fort Riley in Kansas.

Standing in an aircraft hangar at the Victoria Regional Airport, the elder Petrash and Askins were catching up as Victoria community members prepared a spread of barbecue and cake for the soldiers. That food and warm welcome were prepared by Warrior's Weekend volunteers, said Ron Kocian,president and founder.

The nonprofit not only offers an annual fishing trip for veterans, but also offers support year-round, he said.

That support, Askins said, was much appreciated.

"They hear we are here, and they are here to support us," Askins said. "They are part of that family. They are part of that camaraderie, and that is something you don't see in many organizations."

It had been about four years since Petrash had last seen Askins.

And the fortuitous meeting Monday was more than a chance for Petrash, who flew Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters for the Army decades ago, to catch up with a fellow Army helicopter pilot, which was no small opportunity in itself.

It was also a chance to visit a man who was close friends with his son, who has had few opportunities to return home during his five years of Army service, which took him on two deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The younger Petrash, the father said, is currently undergoing career officer training in Oklahoma.

While Askins and Mills said they could not reveal whether the group had been deployed to combat recently, Petrash said danger abounds for such soldiers even during times of peace.

"I'm glad to see these guys in good shape. They have a dangerous job," Petrash said.

As an example, Petrash recalled how 12 pilots had been killed in 1981 when he was learning to fly. One of those killed, he said, was his instructor.

"Aviation is dangerous even if it is in practice," Petrash said.

During his training, Petrash said he sometimes was required to perform risky emergency maneuvers at low altitude in the dark with cumbersome night-vision goggles that allowed little to no depth perception.

"Now that I'm 63, I'm going, 'What the hell was I thinking?'" he said.

But at least for a little while, Petrash and Askins forgot about the dangers that come with flying helicopters for the Army and enjoyed one anther's company that fate had brought them.

"Army families just learn to really, really enjoy when they are together," Petrash said.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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