Guard could be stripped of Apaches

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal An AH-64 Apache helicopter sits on the airfield at the Army Aviation Support Facility on the campus of Tupelo Regional Airport.

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal
An AH-64 Apache helicopter sits on the airfield at the Army Aviation Support Facility on the campus of Tupelo Regional Airport.

By Joe Rutherford

Daily Journal

Tupelo’s Army Aviation Support Facility may be in for big changes if a decision made by top military commanders earlier this month to shift all AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard to the active U.S. Army takes place.

After what was described as intense internal debate, the U.S. National Guard Bureau chief, Army Gen. Frank Grass, gave his public signoff to the U.S. Army’s plan to move all of the Guard’s Apache helicopters into the active force and receive several hundred Black Hawk and Lakota multi-use helicopters in return.

Grass admitted in statements at an April 8 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he would back the plan and implement it because the decision had been made by his superiors, but the issue has not gone quiet.

However, the order can’t be implemented until Congress authorizes it in the appropriations process for 2015, and significant opposition already exists.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a Tupelo resident, was among members of Congress who expressed concerns about the decision and its long-term impact.

In a statement to the Armed Services Committee about the Army’s planned modernization in the face of financial limitations, Wicker said he has “major reservations” about the Apache transfers.

Wicker, whose efforts were largely responsible over the span of a decade in bringing the $30 million Army Aviation Support Facility to the campus of Tupelo Regional Airport, said the Apaches have “performed superbly” under Guard command.

He said the Apaches enhance the National Guard’s ability to fight on short notice. Ten states, he said in his remarks, would be affected by the mass transfer to the active Army. Tupelo is the only Mississippi unit with Apaches.

Tim Powell, the communications chief for the Mississippi National Guard, said 14 Apaches are based in Tupelo, plus numerous Black Hawks and UH-72s (Lakotas). The Apaches operate under the 1-149th Aviation Battalion, and its last deployment was to Iraq from August 2006 to July 2007. At that time, it was known as Troop E, 104th Cavalry Regiment. It has not deployed as a unit to Afghanistan, but over the years, individual soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 834th Support unit also is involved.

Powell said 63 people work fulltime at the Tupelo facility, 85 people are in the Apache command and 62 people in the support group. Most of the personnel are not full time.

A spokesman for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said Cochran wants to discuss the issue with Mississippi Adj. Gen. Augustus Collins. Chris Gallegos, Cochran’s communications director, said the senator is on record as having significant concerns about anything that would weaken the National Guard, and he noted that the generals’ decision must be authorized by Congress.

Powell also noted that until Congress authorizes the plan, it is a proposal and not a fact.

“Until it is actually placed in an authorization that passes in the 2015 budget, it can’t happen,” Powell said.

Powell said the situation is considered “very fluid” and is being watched closely.

“We know that our congressional delegation is fighting for us,” Powell said.

Wicker said he has doubts about the attainability of the $12 billion in savings over a period of years cited by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Maj. Derek J. Holland, commander of AASF in Tupelo, was on an official mission Wednesday and not available for comment, secretary to the commander Janet McCarver said.

Several other members of Congress also expressed concern, media sources reported.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was sharply critical, saying after the hearing that taking away its Apaches “is a huge change. The Guard has been a combat arms reserve force, and by taking the attack helicopters out of the card, they have no more combat mission in aviation.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., meanwhile, expressed concern for the morale if Apache pilots and other personnel who had served for years were told they “aren’t needed any more.”

joe.rutherford@journalinc.com

  • Winston Smith

    I remember a few months back I saw a couple of Apaches just hovering around Tupelo and I found it surreal and off-putting. It was odd seeing these attack helicopters practicing maneuvers against the backdrop of small town America.

    • facts

      The Apaches are not here for just small town America. There here for AMERICA!!!!

      • Winston Smith

        But do we need Apache attack helicopters inside our borders? what’s the point?

        • facts

          To protect you OUTSIDE THE BORDER. who’s TO SAY THEY WON’T BE NEEDED INSIDE THE BORDER…

  • facts

    Where are you Thad
    Cochran, Roger Wicker? These guys and girls have served with great honor in
    Iraq and Afghanistan and now a slap in the face. This unit in Tupelo is one of
    the most decorated units of its kind in the entire military. The reason why you
    see Apaches in the Guard is because the Army can’t fill the seats required to
    fly them. They have been in the Guard for 20 plus years. When the Army started
    the war in Iraq in 2003, who did they call? Tupelo! Yes, 22 of the pilots in
    the Tupelo unit led the fight in Iraq in 2003. The army was short some 200
    Pilots so they called the guard and the guard answered that call. Now it’s like
    the hell with you we don’t have money in the big Army so let’s take the guard
    aircraft and layoff those pilots who fought for our country. I called Thad Cochran’s
    office and they acted like they never heard of this. Cochran is so out of
    touch!!!! Waiting on your call Wicker!!! For the Blackhawks they are
    going to receive, they will be old worn out crap that the guard will pay
    millions rebuilding on your tax dollar.

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  • facts

    Good Job DJ. Getting this out is important…