The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 15, 2014

Officials credit Rothfus with helping to save helicopter unit

JOHNSTOWN — Airport leaders feel the area dodged a bullet with help from U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus when the Army agreed to delay plans to reduce Army Reserve helicopter numbers in Johnstown.

Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority officially thanked Rothfus Tuesday for helping persuade Army leaders to reconsider a plan to reassign all attack helicopters to active-duty units.

County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder, an authority member, said the realignment would reduce the number of helicopters by 75 percent.

“The Army has changed its philosophy,” Lengenfelder said after Tuesday’s authority meeting. “Active duty (leaders) said they want to take back all their shooters.“

The plan would reassign the Apache attack helicopters and replace them with Black Hawk helicopters, which serve in reconnaissance and medevac roles, he said.

Lengenfelder is a retired Air Force colonel.

“This would be a significant change for this area,” Lengenfelder said. “For every four attack helicopters, there would be one Black Hawk.”

The county-owned airport and its fixed-base operator, MTT Aviation Services, receive revenue from fuel sales for military aircraft based here. In addition, the units provide hundreds of part-time and full-time jobs for Guard and Reserve troops, as well as support positions.

But more importantly, Rothfus argued during his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the citizen soldiers have played an important role in the war on terrorism.

“Since 9/11, the National Guard has repeatedly risen to the occasion,” Rothfus testified. “They have answered the call and fought bravely in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Guard and Reserve troops accounted for almost half the Army’s total fighting force at the height of conflict, with more than 21,000 deployments from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard alone, Rothfus noted.

Eliminating the attack helicopters from Army Reserve units would seriously jeopardize training for future deployments, Rothfus argued during testimony for the National Defense Authorization Act.

The spending bill passed in the House in May, but has stalled in the Senate with no action expected until after the November elections. But the Army has agreed to re-examine its plans, Lengenfelder said.

“They are going to take a look at their strategic initiatives, and we’ll have to discuss what they come up with,” Lengenfelder said.

“That’s all we asked.”

Lengenfelder and other local officials have lobbied military leaders, touting the benefits of remaining in Johnstown.

“We have some very unique capabilities to offer these guys,” Lengenfelder said. “We didn’t want the Army to overlook the advantages this area has to offer.”

Randy Griffith covers transportation for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @photogriffer57.

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