The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 8, 2014

Proposed helicopter swap may impact local Guard unit

JOHNSTOWN — Politicians from across the country, including U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr. from Pennsylvania, are analyzing how proposed Defense Department budget cuts and realignments could affect Army National Guard units in their states.

Among the possible big changes,  the Defense Department wants to move Apache helicopters from the Guard to the active  Army. That could significantly impact the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, which includes a company at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. Officials could remove 24 Apaches from the battalion’s inventory and replace them with about eight Black Hawks.

Apaches are attack helicopters that the Army feels it can use for armed reconnaissance. Black Hawks are utility aircraft. The exchange is being proposed as “part of a broader realignment of Army aviation designed to modernize the fleet and increase capability,” according to a press release at the Defense Department website detailing President Barack Obama’s proposed Pentagon budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

Casey feels the National Guard troops need a sufficient amount of Apaches in order to be appropriately trained in the event they are called into a conflict, as they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I get the argument, but the problem is that, in the current society we have, we call up the Guard to play a substantial military role,” said Casey.

Steven Kelly, a spokesman for Toomey, a Republican, said, “Sen. Toomey is concerned about the impact of any large redistribution of aircraft between the Pennsylvania National Guard and the active Army. With this in mind, the senator and staff are working with both the National Guard and the Army to ensure that any trade is in the best interests of our national security and taxpayers.”

Casey, a Democrat, joined 12 other senators in sending a bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, expressing concern about the proposal to cut aviation assets and force structure.

“I just want to make sure the Defense Department – from Secretary Hagel on down – knows how I feel about some of the changes that have been proposed,” said Casey.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, from Pennsylvania’s 12th district, has spoken on the U.S. House of Representatives floor about wanting to let the 1-104th keep its Apaches.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

 

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