Arizona’s National Guard commander has launched a social-media counterattack against a U.S. Army decision to take over the state’s Apache helicopter squadron, calling the decision “completely indefensible.”
The Army announced this week that two state Guards — Arizona and Pennsylvania — will lose their AH-64 aircraft on Friday as part of a cost-cutting and efficiency move.
Arizona stands to lose four remaining Apaches based in the 1st-285th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, just north of Tucson. The unit, which was once six times larger, has just over 400 soldiers.
The decision appeared to be a huge defeat for Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, adjutant general of the Arizona Guard, who has waged a three-year political effort to block the takeover.
McGuire reacted Tuesday with a letter to lawmakers — including Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran — pleading for pressure to overturn the decision.
“The loss of these (battalions) will drastically impact the capabilities of these training centers, which is not just a matter of readiness for these states, but for the Total Army,” he wrote. “Not to mention the impact on these communities where hundreds of jobs will be lost.”
O’Halleran said in a news release he is working to reverse the directive. “I am deeply concerned by the Army’s decision,” he said. “This will have a devastating impact on our military’s readiness and the National Guard’s aviation capabilities.”
McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, McGuire followed up with a lengthy video on Facebook and Twitter, blasting the Army’s decision and seeking to rally opposition. Speaking to elected officials and Arizona citizens, he said, “Now is your time for a call to action … to compel them to rethink this.
“Shutting down operational units that can go to war tonight, in this environment, is completely indefensible. …Walking away from this at this point is an irreversible error.”
It is unclear where the Arizona Guard’s remaining Apaches will go under the reorganization, and whether they will be adopted by the regular Army or merged with another state’s AH-64 fleet. McGuire has said the loss would “gut” Arizona’s militia, leaving about 800 soldiers without jobs, or one-fifth of the Army Guard.
The Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, a coalition of defense-related businesses, says the loss also would have a $147 million economic impact on the region.
The Apache, produced by Boeing Co. at a factory in Mesa, is the Army’s premier attack aircraft. It is armed with a 30mm chain gun, missiles and rockets, with technology to fight day or night. Apaches from the Arizona Guard were deployed several times on combat missions in Afghanistan.
The Army in 2014 launched an Aviation Restructuring Initiative to take 192 Apaches based with nine state Guards. McGuire emerged as an early and fierce critic of that plan, arguing that it did not make sense economically or for national defense.
Amid the dispute, the Army reduced the Arizona Guard’s Apache fleet from two dozen helicopters to just four today.
The Army proposal, meantime, was pared back under pressure. Two states, Missouri and Idaho, replaced their AH-64s with Blackhawk UH-60 helicopters. And, under this week’s directive, five states will retain Apaches: Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Utah and South Carolina.
In his Facebook video, McGuire spoke directly to members of the 1st-285th Battalion, offering hope that the decision can be overturned. “I need you to continue to maintain a laser focus with readiness,” he said. “I am not ready to give up the fight, and I’m with you.”
The National Guard runs a separate but dependent Apache program, known as Peace Vanguard, from the heliport in Marana. Under an agreement with the Republic of Singapore, eight AH-64 helicopters are used to train foreign pilots and other personnel.
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