Maj. Gen. Walter Stewart: Army Plan for Helicopters Will Make Us Less Ready, Not More
This article originally appeared on the Patriot News Opinion Page Wednesday. Link to original article here.
I recall a favorite remark used by former Pennsylvania adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Gerald T. Sajer: “We’re out of money, now we have to think.”
A Pennsylvania Army Guard AH-64 Apache conducts live fire training, 2010.
Photo credit: PA National Guard
The AH-64 is the most complex mission aircraft in the Army inventory, and the sunk training costs represented by Johnstown’s combat proven soldiers and machines is staggering, surely in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To a lesser degree, the same goes for the active unit that will lose its utility helicopters to Johnstown. The Wall Street Journal, being numbers-focused, surely has a sense of the fiscal impact of DA’s proposed disruption, but, unlike military leaders, can have no concept of the time and dollars needed to retrain two complex helicopter units from scratch. Essentially, the sunk costs DA plans to throw in the trash will have to be duplicated.
Defense experts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments get this, and many in Congress do as well. Rather than a costly shuffling of helicopters – rock drills by another name - leave the National Guard with the helicopters it has and bring in more. Pennsylvania could easily absorb a utility helicopter unit transferred from the active Army, and the unit could be aligned with an active organization for training guidance and war plans. Active-Guard alignments are not new and worked well in previous periods of constrained budgets.
One of the Guard’s great strengths is that we field soldiers and units for a fraction of what it costs the active component. Yes, we hear Army leaders talk about their units being “more ready,” but readiness is relative. In helicopter units it comes from turning wrenches and turning rotors, and the airspace over sparsely populated Central Pennsylvania, in my opinion, is superior to that over many active bases.
Years ago the Pennsylvania Army National Guard received permission from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to conduct low-level and night-vision flight training in hundreds of thousands of acres of game lands. And the performance of our units in Iraq and Afghanistan prove that we made good use of it.
Couple these huge over-flight areas with the high-tech gunnery and instrument flying simulators located at Fort Indiantown Gap, and Pennsylvania can be proud that it has what I consider the finest helicopter training base east of the Mississippi River. DA needs to make more use of it, not less.
General Sajer demanded that we think. We did, and we are.
Major Gen. (Ret.) Walter L. Stewart is a former commander of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and was the first commander of the 28th Aviation Brigade, 28th Infantry Division. He writes from Bernville, Pa.