By Maj. Gen. Steve Danner
Adjutant General of Missouri
For more than a decade, Apache helicopters have been a cornerstone of Missouri National Guard readiness at home and abroad.
Apache helicopters are one of the most effective and deadly weapons platforms ever devised. They are loved by our service members and feared by our enemies. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the sound of their rotors meant salvation for our Soldiers and death to our enemies.
Missouri is proud to field one of only eight combat aviation brigades in the National Guard, and of the more than 400 Soldiers who serve in its ranks.
The Missouri National Guard’s own 1-135th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. Working alongside fellow American and allied forces, they provided a 24-hour quick reaction force, convoy security, air assault, personnel and convey movement and reconnaissance over a 45,000-square-mile stretch of Afghanistan.
Shortly after arriving in-country, the task force planned and executed the largest aviation expeditionary task force operation of its kind since the initial invitation of Afghanistan. This operation was key to defeating insurgents during the critical 2013 fighting season. Our pilots flew more than 8,600 flight hours to provide a safe and secure environment in Afghanistan. In recognition of their efforts, the battalion’s Soldiers received more than 300 individual awards, including one Purple Heart and 48 Air Medals.
But the Apache is not limited to service abroad. Since I became adjutant general in 2009, the Apache has been a cornerstone of our state emergency missions. The Apache’s role as a reconnaissance aircraft able to beam back data in real-time to emergency response agencies is vital.
Such a role is critical during a flood, earthquake, or even tornado. As our Black Hawks concentrate on transporting Guardsmen and first responders or evacuating residents, our Apaches can scout roads and bridges to ensure they are viable for responders and supplies coming to the area. Apaches are well-equipped for a wide range of aerial surveillance missions, including using their infrared cameras to identify individuals trapped in rubble or isolated areas.
Of course, neither or state or federal mission would be possible without experienced pilots and maintainers. Although we do grow our own Soldiers, we recruit heavily from the active duty. The average active duty Soldiers spends about six years on active duty before leaving the service. The Guard is key to ensuring that they can continue to lend their experience and expertise to the military by continuing their service.
Not only does this keep our defense strong, but it saves the nation money. The eight Guard attack reconnaissance battalions cost $360 million less than if they were active duty battalions. They also produce jobs for their states. In Missouri, our combat aviation brigade employs approximately 250 Missourians.
Gen. Frank Grass, the chairman of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the joint chiefs, recently testified before the Senate that in fiscal year 2013, 45 active duty Apache pilots transitioned to the National Guard. Keeping those pilots in the Guard saved the government $36 million. That means that in the future, if the National Guard no longer has Apache slots, each pilot leaving active duty costs the American taxpayer $800,000 a year.
Guard attack reconnaissance battalions have proven the equal to their active duty peers in combat. They also represent a critical, life-saving capability during our state emergency missions. We can always build new helicopters, but the experience and training of pilots and crews are irreplaceable. Keeping the Apache helicopter in the National Guard is the right answer for Missouri and the United States.
Maj. Gen. Steve Danner is the adjutant general of Missouri and leads more than 11,500 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen stationed in 60 locations throughout the state.