Army depends heavily on National Guard aviators.
"They said they'd be there, and they are," said Col. George Gluski, division chief for aviation and safety in the National Guard Bureau. "We haven't seen any really negative impact ... The guys seem to be hanging in there."
Meanwhile, the heavy use of" Guard helicopter pilots and maintainers in both conflicts is likely to solidify their clout within the Army
Army National Guard and reserve units constitute about half of the aviation force in Iraq. Depending on the aircraft type, up to 80 percent of the reserve units come from the Guard. Simultaneously, National Guard aviation units account for a quarter of the force deployed in Afghanistan.
Mobilized Guardsmen fly Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters alongside the active units, while Guard aviation intermediate maintenance units support their own aircraft and those of the active-duty force.
The Guard relies on experienced aviators and maintainers to field units interchangeable with the active force. On short notice, for example, G Company, 140th Aviation Regiment of the California National Guard deployed eight CH-47 Chinooks to support special operations in preparation for the Iraq invasion.
The Army mobilized 67 Apache pilots, 28 Chinook pilots and six OH-58D Guard pilots to fill active-duty units in Iraq.
Flying hours for the Guard, nevertheless, were significantly cut in the fiscal year 2005 budget. "Everyone is doing the infamous 'more-with-less,'" said Gluski. As a result of the flying cuts, the aviation and safety division chief believes mobilized aviators will require more pre-mobilization and pre-deployment training.
Under current law, reserve component units can be mobilized for up to two years. Including the work-up preceding deployments, Army Guard aviators can be away from home for up to 20 months. Connecticut and Pennsylvania Guardsmen of the split-state G Company, 104th Aviation Regiment left for Iraq in February 2003 and returned from Afghanistan in April 2004.
The Guardsmen from the two states had trained together only infrequently, and their two-month pre-deployment training in New Jersey hardly was representative of the combat environment.
"They had no mountain, desert or survival training, and they went to Afghanistan and performed extremely well," notes Connecticut state aviation officer Lt. Col. Tom Boland.
In 10 and a half months, the 14 Chinooks of the combined unit logged more than twice the cumulative peacetime hours flown in a typical year. Wartime mobilization gives aviation units stable maintenance rosters and the highest priority far spare parts. The Guard CH-47Ds reported operational readiness rates of more than 85 percent in Afghanistan, far better than the 50 to 60 percent typical for stateside units.
Divided between Kandahar and Bagram air bases in Afghanistan, the Chinooks generally hauled supplies to firebases at altitudes beyond the reach of other helicopters. The CH-47Ds stood ready to move quick-reaction forces into mountain combat, and delivered troops and equipment.
One Army aviation unit of four in the upcoming rotation to Afghanistan will be from the National Guard. Since 2002, Army Guard units have deployed 86 aircraft and 1,500 soldiers to Afghanistan, and 144 aircraft and 4,200 personnel to Iraq. At the same rime, Army Guard aviators deployed to Kosovo, Bosnia and Central America.
Apache crews of the Florida Guard now serve in both Afghanistan and Bosnia. Guard aviation units also continue routine support for state and federal emergencies, and assisted stateside active-duty units sent to war.
"It's a balancing act," said Gluski. "Ideally, I'd like to put some cargo [Chinook] or utility [Black Hawk] capability in every state, but I've got to prepare for the next deployment."
Interstate agreements cover most domestic missions. Helicopters from Oregon and Washington State, for example, fought brush fires in the southwestern United States, and Guard aviation units from eight states supported the G8 Summit in Savannah, Ga.
National Guard unit deployments begin with a request from the theater combatant commander for some number or type of aircraft. The request goes to Army Forces Command, which determines if an active or reserve unit is suited, based in large part on classified status reports filed by all active and reserve units.
If Forces Command concludes the requirement is best filled by die National Guard, the Guard Bureau assesses the equipment, readiness and commitments of state units. Bureau recommendations are returned to the command, but the Department of the Army makes the final determination.
Ideally, an alert provides 30 days' notice before the mobilization order transfers the unit from state to federal control and funding. Once mobilized, the unit should receive another 30 days of training before it deploys. The Army immediately upgrades the spare-parts priority status of deploying units and imposes a stop-loss order to retain skilled people.
If time permits, Chinook and Black Hawk crews receive additional training at the Eastern Area Training Site in Pennsylvania, while Apache crews go to the Western Area Training Site in Arizona. The Colorado National Guard also operates the high altitude Army training site that teaches helicopter pilots the skills of mountain flying.
Once mobilized, force planners consider Guard aviation units interchangeable with those of the active component. G Company, 104th Aviation was originally tasked for Iraq, but spent a month in Kuwait before being reassigned and flown to Afghanistan in C-17 cargo airplanes. The unit's Chinooks were the first outside of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment equipped with upgraded T55 GA-714L engines. The extra power was needed in mountainous Afghanistan.
Wartime deployments also put Guard and active-duty flyers at equal risk. A CH-47D Chinook from C Company, 193rd Aviation Regiment, of the Hawaii National Guard crashed and burned in an Iraqi sandstorm in April, fortunately without loss of life. Another Chinook of F Company, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment of the Illinois National Guard was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile in Iraq in November 2003. The incident killed 16 soldiers, including three Guard aviators, and triggered a political storm about equipment priorities.
The Army now is upgrading die aircraft survivability suite on deployed Chinooks with the AN/ALE-47 flare/chaff dispenser, and Army Forces Command has implemented ways to expedite equipment deliveries. National Guard units have long operated aircraft older than those fielded with active units. However, Guard aviation units earmarked for combat now receive the same support as regular units.
"There is an effort to equip us like the active component prior to the deployment date," said Gluski. "If we don't make a deployment date, we try to equip them in-country." Units generally deploy with their organic aircraft, but the Guard Bureau can mix and match aircraft from different states to outfit deploying units. "The goal is to provide the most current, capable aircraft to the war fighter we can," be added.
Unit rotations bring Guardsmen home and send their helicopters to the depots for a comprehensive overhaul. The cost of the repairs is borne by the active Army, but actual work may be done by state units in their Army aviation support facilities, aviation classification and repair depots, or by contractors in outside facilities.
The California Black Hawks, for example, are being fixed by Lear Siegler in Washington state. Like those of the active component, seriously damaged Guard aircraft are repaired at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas.
The Chinooks of G Company, 104th Aviation remained in Afghanistan to be flown by Guardsmen from Alabama and Georgia. Departing units leave equipment behind for their replacements, to avoid having to reposition helicopters, vehicles and support equipment. "We try to exchange everything else, so we can reset the equipment and get it in great shape for future deployments," said Gluski.
Properly supplied, Guard units sustain high operational readiness rates during long deployments. "The bad news story is when we come back. We go back to the lower priority, so you see a decline in the number of aircraft available," he said. "I honestly think if the Army goes to 85 percent spares-available, we're going to see an improvement in the Guard's availability."
An expected reorganization promises to enhance the role of the National Guard. Starting in late 2005 or early 2006, the Army intends to transition from a division-centric organization to a modular brigade structure and increase the number of aircraft in the brigade from 60 to 120.
Guard equipment requirements also benefit from the sudden death of the RAH-66 Comanche. "The cancellation of the Comanche program probably is going to have the most major impact on Guard aviation of anything in the last 15 years," said Gluski. A portion of the nearly $15 billion that had been budgeted for Comanche could fund 204 light utility helicopters, 30 armed reconnaissance helicopters and 88 fixed-wing transports for the Guard. Furthermore, the Comanche windfall is supposed to increase and accelerate Black Hawk and Chinook modernization programs.
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|Title Annotation:||National Guard|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2004|
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