Keith Rothfus | Apache

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and Maj. Jack Wallace, 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion commander, check out an AH-64D Apache Longbow at John Murtha Johnstown–Cambria County Airport on Wednesday.

What might be a last-chance effort is on to keep more than a dozen AH-64 Apache attack helicopters with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

Its fleet consists of 24 Apaches, of which 21 are currently on hand, including 15 at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport and six at Fort Indiantown Gap, according to Maj. Jack Wallace, the 1-104th commander. However, a new plan calls for transferring all but eight of those Apaches from the reserve to the Army’s active-duty military component by this fall and replacing them with some Black Hawks, which serve in reconnaissance and medivac roles.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, hopes to enact legislation to allow the 1-104th to retain all of its Apaches.

On May 1, he introduced H.R. 2195, which would prevent the transfer of Apache helicopters out of the 1-104th before the National Commission on the Future of the Army examines the impact the moves would have on defense readiness. The congressman plans to present a similar provision – in the form of an amendment – to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“I’ll be offering an amendment next week to slow down the process that we’re seeing with the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative,” the 12th district’s congressman said during a visit to the Johnstown airport on Wednesday.

“As I’ve talked about, there is supposed to be a national commission doing a review of the restructuring initiative. They have not even reported yet. So we think it’s premature for them to be pulling assets out before that study is done. So we will be bringing that to the floor next week.”

Wallace would also like to see the Apaches remain in place.

“What (the proposed legislation) will hopefully achieve is to buy a little time here, let the commission develop what the future of the Army will look like and maybe we can retain these aircraft in the future,” Wallace said. “The current plan is now we’re only going to retain eight out of the 24 we have. If we can get to retain all 24, that would be a good thing.”

It would take about eight weeks to train an individual pilot or mechanic on the Black Hawks, according to Wallace. But the process of getting everybody up to speed could take more than a year, since the civilians serve as Reservists part time. That could temporarily affect the 1-104th’s readiness if it was needed to be called into military action.

“It’s a turnkey operation here,” Rothfus said.

“You have pilots, maintenance, support. It’s been an incredibly effective job at a relatively low cost. If you want to affect the mission that the guard is able to do in a negative way, you start pulling out equipment like this.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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