Missouri National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks touch down at Whiteman
By Airman 1st Class Michaela R. Slanchik, 509th/131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 19, 2016
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Many may know the Black Hawk helicopter from their favorite military movie. As it prepares to land, the rotors swirl dust, dirt and debris around brave men and women who are geared-up and carrying weapons as they sprint toward the helicopter to take on the day's mission. Maybe you've seen the Black Hawk sport its ability to carry a Humvee across a field, or put out a wildfire with a 600-gallon bucket of water. Now these remarkable assets are here at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
The Missouri National Guard's helicopter fleet at Whiteman formerly consisted of 24 AH-64 Apaches. Now only eight remain after many were sent to active-duty units in Hawaii, Kansas and Utah. This made space for the arrival of 10 UH-60 Black Hawks.
The change was part of the Department of the Army's Aviation Reconstruction Initiative, which involves the movement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk due to sequestration budget cuts, as announced in 2015.
Since September of 2015, 10 Black Hawks now call Whiteman home. They are assigned to the 1-135th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB), Army Aviation Support Facility #1 (AASF #1).
The National Guard's mission includes humanitarian and natural disaster relief, large-scale transportation of supplies, and drug interdiction operations.
Col. Thomas Burson, the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) and AASF #1 commander, elaborated on how the new helicopter has affected operations.
"The Guard has a federal and a state mission," Burson said. "The Black Hawk serves more of a state mission since it is a cargo and troop-carrying helicopter. The switch makes active duty, Reserve and Guard units more lethal and agile."
With a proven history that dates back to the early 1970s, the Black Hawk provides the ability to carry cargo, external loads, military working dogs (MWD) and passengers. The helicopter is also capable of performing medical evacuations.
Before the Black Hawks' arrival at Whiteman, the Apache would participate in combat search and rescue (CSAR) exercises with the 442nd Fighter Wing two to four times a month.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Marcus Moore, an AASF #1 Air Crew Training Program standardization instructor pilot, said the arrival of the new helicopters has added another element to the scenarios.
"Now that we have Black Hawks and Apaches, when we are doing combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions, we have A-10s [Thunderbolt II] guiding in Apaches and Black Hawks and it makes for a more effective training," Moore said.
The AASF #1 also performs joint operations with the U.S. Air Force weapons school at Whiteman twice a year. In the winter of 2015, the Black Hawk participated in exercise SMOKEX along with ground Army personnel, Apaches and A-10s.
"The goal is to train and fight as a joint force," said Burson. "Between CSAR and other training missions, we've been doing that on base for the past eight to 10 years."
For the soldiers of the 1-135th ARB AASF #1, flying and maintaining the UH-60 is new and requires specialized training.
Earlier this year, Moore returned from four months of training and became a certified Black Hawk pilot. More than 50 aviators and 90 enlisted maintainers from AASF #1 are required to attend qualification training at one of three Army aviation training sites. The soldiers have three years to become combat-mission ready with the Black Hawk.
"I've been born and raised in an attack battalion," said Burson. "But overall, the best thing for the Missouri Army National Guard and the United States Army is for us to transition from the Apache to the UH-60. I believe it in my heart."
The 1-135th ARB is scheduled to convert to the 1-135th Assault Helicopter Battalion on May 1, 2016.