National Guard: Plan would eliminate 30 helicopters

(WBIR) The Tennessee National Guard is speaking out against a plan it says would eliminate 113 full-time jobs and affect their ability to respond during domestic emergencies.

In a release, Tennessee's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Max Haston said he is perplexed by an Army plan to eliminate the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters from the Army inventory.

He said under the plan, Tennessee would lose 30 helicopters and the 692 soldiers who currently support them. In addition, the state would lose 113 full-time jobs along with two of its three Army flight facilities, including the Alcoa location.

"We have 70 full-time workers here alone," said Lieutenant Colonel Mel Clawson, of Tennessee's 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron. "The news is still fresh; I know a lot of soldiers were shocked. It could have a huge impact on their families, and all 113 full-time workers across the state."

Tennessee's National Guard is the only one that flies Kiowa Warriors, which are used for reconnaissance. According to Clawson, they were used to find and detect enemies in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have been housed at the Alcoa facility since the early 1980s.

"There have been times people have been lost in the mountains, where we've had to go and try to locate lost hikers or campers, and then we were able to send the rangers in for the rescue," said Clawson. "We also went to Katrina and we've used them on the south border for those types of reconnaissance missions. So it could definitely have an impact on domestic operations."

Clawson said the National Guard Bureau has created a replacement proposal that was expected to be released to the public by the end of the week. He said he hopes it will send replacement aircraft that will allow the facilities to keep their soldier and full-time employees working.

"Tennessee is one of the top states when it comes to the operational readiness of helicopters as well as the flying air program execution, and with that confidence we hope that the Bureau will support us by giving us like aircraft, or at least an aircraft to replace this one," said Clawson.

Clawson said despite the plan, units of Tennessee's 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron who fly OH-58D Kiowa Warriors are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan with the aircraft soon. He said 15 planes will mobilize in mid-February, along with 35 pilots and 45 maintenance soldiers. He said they are scheduled to be in Afghanistan by mid-March.

Another piece of the Army's plan would likely cost Tennessee one or two of another type of helicopter. That's part of the Army's plan to move the LUH-72 Lakota helicopter to Ft. Rucker, in Alabama, to be used to help train new pilots. The National Guard primarily uses that helicopter during the state's counter-drug missions.

"We have been through, in the past, aircraft changes. But nothing where the Army immediately decided or was pretty confident they are going to take aircraft away," said Clawson.


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