News: The National Guard: Interchangeable, ready and reliable
Story by Lt. Col. Matthew Devivo
RALEIGH, N.C. - Who do you call when your installation has no available maintenance test pilots and qualified mechanics to inspect, repair and test fly a fleet of helicopters needing to be transferred? Who do you call when a bridge project on your Army post needs to be completed? You call on the Army National Guard.
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) called North Carolina Army National Guard’s (NCNG) 449th Theater Aviation Brigade’s always ready and reliable team of Apache and Black Hawk aviation experts, and Fort Jackson called NCNG’s 505th Engineer Battalion.
The Screaming Eagles aviation units were out of state on a training exercise and unable to support a fleet of aircraft scheduled to be transferred. Once NCNG leadership approved the request, the North Carolina Guard team traveled, in late March, to Fort Campbell to inspect and test fly 22 helicopters.
At Fort Jackson, S.C., 10 Soldiers from NCNG’s 878th Engineer Company built a bridge when they deployed there April 10 - 12. The 878th is based in Kings Mountain, N.C.
The Guard is an important part of readiness at Jackson. While it’s a very large post with many thousands of Soldiers, most are there for training and not assigned permanently. This creates a critical need for skilled, ready and reliable personnel; the Guard has plenty of that.
“I do not have extra active duty Army Soldiers to get things done at Fort Jackson, and we came across an opportunity to partner with the NCNG,” said Lt. Col. Shane Ousey, Fort Jackson’s deputy chief of staff for logistics.
The 878th engineers brought more than 100 years of combined civilian and military experience completing a bridge project over a creek at Fort Jackson’s Legion Lake. Not just mechanical skill with five-ton skid steers, generators, augers, chain saws, but the professional’s touch building among trees and wetlands without destroying either.
“We do over fifty percent of the Basic Combat Training for the Army,” said Ousey. “Guard assistance like this bridge project helps makes us a top notch training facility, among the best in the Army.”
NCNG’s mission to Fort Campbell’s 101st added some salt on the wound due to recent national discussions over the need to remove all combat aviation (Apache Attack Helicopters) from the National Guard.
“In spite of recent comments by senior Army leaders, this mission clearly shows that in the Apache community, not only is the Guard interchangeable with the active component, but the Guard and its Soldiers are among the most experienced in the force,” said Col. Brian Pierce, NCNG’s State Aviation Officer and commander of the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade. “We remain proficient in both our individual and collective skills and maintenance practices throughout the year and have always been ready and responsive to support our state or in this case our nation.”
It took the NCNG team at Fort Campbell 12 days and long hours to complete their mission. They inspected and test flew 17 Apache’s and five Black Hawks.
“We were all excited to help out our fellow Army aviators,” said Chief Warrant 3 Thomas Underwood, a 16-year NCNG veteran and Black Hawk maintenance test pilot with the 1-131st Aviation Battalion, based in Salisbury, N.C. “We conducted detailed inspections of five Black Hawks and were able to correct serious vibration issues and other items to prepare them for transfer to another base.”
The only challenge for us was not being familiar with the Fort Campbell flying area. Everything else was textbook maintenance checks and test flying, just like how we do it in the Guard, said Underwood.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carl Glover, a 22-year NCNG veteran and Apache Attack Helicopter instructor pilot and maintenance test pilot with the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, based in Morrisville, N.C. “We got the call to help out the 101st, and in four days we were on the ground executing our mission. It really demonstrates the respect that the active Army aviation community has for us and we were happy to help them.”
The 1-130th is no stranger to working with their active duty counterparts and performing at and above Army standards. The 1-130th was the first reserve component Apache unit in the Army and the first reserve Apache unit to deploy to Afghanistan in 2002.
In another example of the 1-130th ‘s readiness and reliability, the unit will deploy to Fort Polk, La., and conduct a high intensity, three-week training exercise, in June, at the Joint Readiness Training Center there. The 1-130th is the only Army National Guard combat aircraft unit conducting this type of complex combined arms training this year.
“The unit has a proud history and record of accomplishment including multiple deployments to combat zones, and recognition as the top Apache battalion in the Army,” said Pierce. “The 1-130th has over 25 years of institutional knowledge and well earned respect across the Army aviation community. We continue to provide strategic depth and capability as part of the Total Army, so it will be a sad day for the Army and our Nation if the Army’s plan to transfer the Apaches continues.”
These two missions demonstrate yet again that the Guard is a ready and reliable force with Citizen Soldiers and Airmen highly proficient in their skill sets and interchangeable with their active duty counterparts.