APACHE A1 4-10

An Apache helicopter sits at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in this file photograph.

The National Guard Apache attack helicopters will be flying off into the sunset by this fall.

The Army is transferring all National Guard AH-64 Apaches to the active-duty military component, and that effort is beginning with the 48 helicopters in Johnstown and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, confirmed Thursday.

The move is part of the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative policy.

There have been negotiations to allow one company of Johnstown-based 1st Battalion, 104th Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion, to continue training on the Apache helicopters, said Maj. Ed Shenk, a National Guard spokesman in Harrisburg. He said state officials haven’t been updated on the status of those negotiations in Washington.

Guard personnel would not relocate with the equipment, Shenk said. The helicopters would simply be reassigned to active-duty military units around the world.

“I don’t think the active-duty folks have identified which ramp space they are going to move to,” Doug Lengenfelder, Cambria County President  Commissioner, said Thursday at the courthouse. Lengenfelder is a retired Air Force colonel.

As for the future of the soldiers stationed at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, Shenk said their assignments have not been determined.

“We are all wondering the same thing,” Shenk said. “It’s still in the trying-to-figure-it-out stage.”

The military has proposed replacing some of the 24 Apache attack helicopters now in Johnstown with Black Hawks, Lengenfelder said. The Black Hawk helicopters serve in reconnaissance and medevac roles, he said.

As proposed last year, there would be one Black Hawk for every four Apaches now stationed here.

“The good news is, it looks like it is going to be more than a 1-to-4 ratio with Black Hawks,” Lengenfelder said.

Responding to reports that Guard unit members were told to prepare for reassignment, Lengenfelder said, “It is one thing to be told to get ready to leave, and another to actually be moved.”

Lengenfelder said a career in the military taught him not to pack all his bags until the moving vans arrive.

“When I officially see the orders, I will believe it,” he said.  

The state Guard command tries to keep the part-time soldiers attached to units within 50 miles of their homes.

“There are 86 armories around the state,” Shenk said.

Plans were originally drawn up last year to remove the Apaches, and local leaders credited Rothfus with going to bat for the guardsmen.

Following Rothfus’ testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, an amendment was included in the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit taking those aircraft away from the Army National Guard during the 2015 fiscal year.

But the Senate version, which became the final version, allowed for 48 aircraft to be moved back into active duty in October.

A Rothfus spokeswoman said it was assumed the selection of those helicopters would be taken from various units scattered around the country, not just two.

Rothfus-backed legislation established the National Commission on the Future of the Army to review all moves.

“Given that the commission I fought to establish to address this issue has yet to even hold its first meeting, it is unconscionable that a decision to remove the aircraft has been made without their input,” Rothfus said in a statement.

“I will be fighting for an immediate freeze on the removal of any aircraft before the commission has deliberated the adverse impacts on the Guard’s ability to respond in a crisis situation.

“To do otherwise would not only be bad for Johnstown, but would degrade our National Guard and reduce our military readiness.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.