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The Arizona National Guard is speaking out against the U.S. Army’s planned “seizure” of 192 National Guard AH-64D Apache attack helicopters for use in the armed aerial scout role.
In a strongly worded editorial that ran in newspapers last week, Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, adjutant general for Arizona and director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, blasted the Army for telling members of the Arizona National Guard that they are “unworthy of operating the Army’s premier attack helicopter.”
“Army leaders recently revealed a plan to take away all 192 National Guard AH-64D Apache attack helicopters — 24 of which are assigned to Arizona — asserting that guardsmen aren’t as ready to perform attack aviation missions as the active duty,” McGuire wrote. “That claim is inaccurate and statistically unproven.
“Adding insult, proponents of the Army’s plan say the Guard can’t be trusted with the demands of an Apache mission and that Guard units were tasked with ‘less complex missions’ upon arrival to the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In fact, McGuire said, the 403 Arizona Guardsmen assigned to the 1-285th Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana flew the full spectrum of combat operations and fought valiantly in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. They also supported two company-sized deployments to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013.
“Our guardsmen flew the same missions as active duty units. On one rotation they provided the sole Apache capability for an entire region of the country. They did this with a flawless safety record.”
McGuire’s comments come amid growing state opposition to an Army plan, confirmed in January of this year, to abandon the Armed Aerial Scout program that would have replaced the Army’s aging OH-58 Kiowas with a new-start or commercial-off-the-shelf aircraft. Instead, the Kiowas will be replaced with a combination of unmanned systems and Apaches drawn from National Guard units.
In making the announcement in January, then Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum said that, although the Army would be pulling Apache helicopters from the reserve component for use by the active component, it would also be pulling UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters out of the active component for use by National Guard units.
According to Mangum, the Black Hawks will provide the lift and medevac capabilities the Guard Needs for its Title 32 missions, as well as better supporting homeland defense. An Army press release quoted him as saying that Apaches “don’t do much for a governor during a natural disaster.”
State governors aren’t convinced. McGuire is joining Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, the Council of Governors, and the adjutants general of 54 states and territories “to request an independent commission to study the Total Army’s force structure before drastic and potentially harmful cuts are made.” He is asking Arizonans to contact their elected representatives to encourage them to support H.R. 3930, the bill that would create a commission to study alternative solutions.
“The surprise so-called ‘cost-cutting’ move actually imposes a great fiscal and moral expense,” McGuire wrote in his editorial, estimating that the planned aircraft swap would reduce the Arizona Army National Guard by about 800 soldiers. “If Apaches are completely divested from the Guard we forever lose the invaluable training and experience that our soldiers have earned. We also lose the best option for retaining valuable skills. When Apache crews and maintainers leave active duty in the future there will be nowhere in the Guard for them to continue their service and remain available when the nation needs them.”
He concluded, “For this reason when I’m asked why the Arizona National Guard needs Apaches, my answer is, ‘For the same reasons the U.S. Army does.’”