They train to the same standards as their active duty counterparts and cost 60 percent less to maintain. Yet after years of defending freedom in Afghanistan, Arizona’s citizen-soldiers are being told 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. 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.
Fact: 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.
The surprise so-called “cost-cutting” move actually imposes a great fiscal and moral expense. In a fair discussion about cost savings, the National Guard — the most cost-effective component of the Army — should see an increased role in national defense. Instead, amid historic budget challenges and without discussion or compelling reason, the Army intends to gut the National Guard by removing these Apaches and reducing the Arizona Army National Guard by about 800 soldiers.
This is no small cut. It means 1 of every 5 Arizona Army National Guardsmen will be told their services are no longer needed. It’s not just about jobs. These are your neighbors, friends and co-workers — men and women who have sworn to defend the constitutions of the United States and Arizona and are willing to protect their communities, respond to state emergencies, help secure the border and place themselves in harm’s way when called.
As a nation, now is not the time to walk away from the investment made in the Guard as an operational force since Sept. 11, 2001. 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.
That is why I’m proud to join 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.
It’s up to Congress now. Arizonans should contact their elected representatives in Washington and encourage them to support HR 3930, the bill that would address this aircraft grab and create a commission to study solutions that retain capability in a fiscally responsible way.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution, wary of large standing armies, gave Congress the power to raise and support armies as they were needed. They were referring to the Colonial militia, the predecessor to today’s National Guard. What they believed holds true today, that a well-regulated and armed militia is necessary to the security of a free state.
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.”