A key congressional panel that moved to save the A-10 close air-support aircraft from retirement also nixed an Army plan to transfer AH-64 Apache attack helicopters out of Army National Guard units, including the Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana.
In a marathon session on the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act this week, the House Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment by U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Bill Enyart, D-Ill., to prevent the Apache transfer and also limit the number of soldiers who could be cut from the Guard.
The move was supported by U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat who co-sponsored a successful amendment to fund the A-10 at least through 2015, and by fellow committee member Trent Franks, a Glendale Republican.
The Army in its 2015 budget plan proposed transferring to active-duty Army units all 192 National Guard AH-64D Apache attack helicopters — 24 of which are assigned to a unit at the Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana. The budget-saving measure would replace the Apaches, the Army’s primary attack helicopter, with a smaller number of UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters.
But opponents, besides members of Congress including 50 state governors and the top Guard officers of 54 states and territories, say the move is wrongheaded and ignores the contribution of the Guard’s Apache units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, adjutant general for the Arizona National Guard in Arizona, said the move would cause the loss of about 800 Guard members in Marana.
In an editorial published in the Star on April 25, McGuire noted that 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, flying the same missions as active- duty units, he said.
The amendment to the Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense-spending bill prohibits all transfers of Apache helicopters in fiscal 2015, starting Oct. 1, and would limit the number of soldiers who could be cut from the Guard.
Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who head the Senate National Guard Caucus, led a group of 19 senators in introducing similar legislation on Tuesday that would protect the Guard and its Apache helicopters and set up a commission to evaluate the future of the Army. Neither Arizona senator was among the original co-sponsors.
On Thursday, Barber met with Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain and spoke with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about Senate action to protect the A-10, the congressman’s office said in a news release.