News: SC National Guard Apaches vital to Army mission
Story by Capt. Jamie Delk
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The sweeping proposal to reconfigure Army aviation assets has National Guard leaders at all levels speaking out against the recommendation to take AH-64 Apaches from the National Guard and give them to the Active component in exchange for UH-60 Black Hawks.
“A decision of this scale needs deep consideration from all parties involved, and I’m not sure that has happened,” said Maj. Gen. Lester Eisner, retired, former deputy adjutant general of South Carolina and a former AH-64 battalion commander and pilot. “The Army National Guard AH-64 force structure has provided a critical backfill to meet the total Army requirements. If we do not maintain this attack combat aviation capability within the National Guard then the total Army loses.”
In 2012, the 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, S.C. National Guard, flew the final mission out of Iraq.
“We moved our 650-person Task Force out of Iraq while simultaneously providing security for the entire Iraqi Joint Operations Area,” said Lt. Col. James Fidler, commander of 1-151st ARB. “It was quite remarkable. In spite of the complexity and magnitude of this historic retrograde operation we never compromised our sacred trust with our troops on the ground – they could count on 1-151st ARB Apaches being overhead.”
At the time, Lt. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, U.S. Army Central commander, and now commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said that the 1-151st ARB, S.C. Army National Guard, was the finest AH-64 Battalion in the U.S. Army.
“What sets apart Army aviation in the S.C. National Guard is our culture, the commitment to the profession of arms and achieving excellence in what we do,” said Col. Jakie Davis, S.C. National Guard joint operations officer and Apache pilot. “Our culture dictates that we go beyond just meeting requirements and train harder and work harder than others, because it is the right thing to do.”
Upon completion of Operation New Dawn, the 1-151st ARB transitioned to Kuwait. Here, the unit was immediately re-tasked from combat operations to overwater operations throughout the Northern Arabian Gulf and beyond. The 1-151st ARB aggressively took ownership of this new tasking.
“When the 1-151st ARB returned from deployment, instead of ‘taking a knee’ like most units, we began training active duty units in attack helicopter overwater operations and deck landing qualifications,” said Davis, who was commander of the 1-151st ARB at the time. “This was a skill set that did not exist in the Attack Aviation community and the 1-151st ARB began this program with the assistance of the Navy.”
Just 16 months after their equipment returned home from deployment, the 1-151st ARB has flown more than 5,000 flight hours, conducting live fire gunnery exercises and joint mission training with air and ground assets from the Army, Air Force and Navy. Fully-manned at 106 percent strength, the unit has not only re-postured for their fundamental wartime mission, they have emerged as a leader in the Army’s evolution of AH-64D employment in a maritime environment.
From deploying a cadre of AH-64D instructor pilots to conduct Deck Landing Qualification training in South Korea to Carrier Strike Group validation exercises over the Atlantic Ocean, they have consistently lived up to their billing as a “National Treasure.”
The driving force behind this fast paced, diverse team of AH-64D “Longbow” pilots is a seasoned corps of maintainers, only a fraction of which are employed full-time. While the unit is authorized almost 150 Apache full-time maintenance personnel, the S.C. National Guard employs just under 50.
“This speaks volumes of the cost effectiveness to the taxpayers as well as the exceptional experience level of our maintainers,” said Fidler. “Our first and second line supervisors have an average of 23 years in the Apache business.”
“The fact that the Guard stands to lose aviators, air crews and maintainers is a shame,” said Eisner. “All of the National Guard Apache battalions have deployed, and thus, carry with them a deep skill set and years of experience. If reorganization happens, the Army National Guard, as well as the U.S. Army loses 20 years of AH-64 experience.”