Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Texas Army Guard retires Army's last A-model AH-64 Apache helicopter

By Sofia Bledsoe, Program Executive Office, Aviation

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - It was a proud, historic and emotional moment for the Soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack/Reconnaissance) as the last AH-64A Apache helicopter, aircraft 451, was “retired” from the Army and handed over to the Project Office for Apache Helicopters during a ceremony on Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, July 15. The event was hosted by the battalion as it was the unit that had the last A-model Apache in its fleet.

The aircraft will be flown to San Angelo, Texas, by Chief Warrant Officer Five Jim Sandberg, standardization pilot with the unit, and Chief Warrant Officer Two Adrian Domonoski, maintenance test officer with the unit, where it will be ‘depopulated’ or disassembled, then reconfigurated into the next generation AH-64D Apache Longbow.

“As the Project Manager for the Apache attack helicopter, I’m really proud to take custody of the 451,” said Army Col. Shane Openshaw. “In about a year from now, you’ll see 451 come out of the production line as the latest and last AH-64D.”

And many in the unit were sad to see the aircraft go, despite its scheduled return as an upgraded model.

“It’s like losing an old friend,” said Army Capt. Stacy James Rostorfer, commander of B Company, 1st Bn., 149th Avn. Regt. “That aircraft has saved my life; it has saved many lives. It’s armored in all the right places, so you can go in, protect others and protect yourself. We always brought everybody home.”
Rostorfer said he had been an Apache fan as a young man and recalled playing with Apache models when he was ten years old. “They’re still in the basement of my parents’ house. I’ll never part with it.”

During the ceremony, Army Lt. Col. Derrek Hryhorchuk, commander of the battalion, recounted the unit’s heroism, remembering that aircraft 451 kept them safe and alive.
“We’re going to make sure that aircraft goes out in style,” he said. Hryhorchuk had flown the Apache’s predecessor, the AH-1 Cobra, and noted that things that needed to be improved in the Cobra were in place in the A-model Apache. “I’m looking forward to the capabilities that needed to be improved in the A-model that are now in the D-model Longbow.”

Despite the highlight of the aircraft, the ceremony also focused on the Soldiers.
“I’m not here to talk about the aircraft,” said Army Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby, program executive officer for Army aviation. “I’m here to talk about you. You, the Soldiers of the Texas National Guard, who have stood up and said, ‘I want to make a difference. I want to give back to my country’. And it’s your pride, your courage, your passion that make that aircraft special. Because aircraft don’t fly. Aviators fly. And they fly because of the mechanics and the crew chiefs who make them ready to fly.”

Aircraft 451 has had a long and proud history with the unit, who was recently nominated for the Valorous Unit Award. Four of its aviators had been recognized for their heroism and extraordinary achievements with the Distinguished Flying Crosses in Ramadi, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Aircraft 451 took numerous heavy ballistic damage, but the aircraft and crew and the Soldiers they protected always came home safely.
In one case, aircraft 451 was used to quite literally bring a wounded Soldier home.
During a firefight that took place when the unit was deployed to Iraq, an infantry Soldier was seriously wounded. Traditional medical evacuation assets were not able to respond. The crew of aircraft 451 landed and placed the wounded Soldier in the front seat of the Apache. The co-pilot/ gunner, who would normally occupy that seat, attached himself to the aircraft by the wing and fuselage holds. The wounded Soldier was quickly treated and provided the advanced care he needed. In the end, he recovered fully from his wounds.
For this action, the crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“After you get through a couple of weeks in combat, you strap yourself into an Apache, you feel a sense of invincibility,” said Col. Richard Adams, 36th CAB commander. “There are a lot of sons and daughters in America who are alive because of that aircraft.”