Lt. Justin Hagel said the moment he saw the Apache helicopter he knew he wanted to fly one.
Hagel was in Houston while his National Guard unit responded to Hurricane Katrina. He told KVUE's sister station KENS 5 this story while preparing for a live fire exercise from the backseat of his AH-6D Apache. Hagel made it!
Now, the third-year pilot is threatened with losing the bird he worked so hard to earn. Proposed cuts by the Pentagon include taking all 192 Apache attack helicopters from National Guard units across the nation and putting them in the possession of the full-time Army.
Texas National Guard Commander Major General William "Len" Smith calls the move "short sighted." Smith said the Pentagon is making cuts, based on budget problems they have now, that will affect the guard 10 to 20 years down the road. He says the proposed cuts threatened not only Texas, but the nation as a whole.
The first of the 149th Attack reconnaissance battalion, based in Houston, would lose 16 Apaches, which would be replaced with just 5 Blackhawk utility helicopters. The problems is, according to Smith, "they don't want to fly Blackhawks, they want to fly Apaches!"
Smith feels the Guard could lose highly-trained pilots in the process.
The plan also includes eliminating the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat team. Somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 positions would be eliminated. But Smith believes, despite a National Guard plan being rejected, the Pentagon could still be convinced to change its mind.
Smith said by taking all 192 Apaches nationwide and replacing them with 11 Blackhawks, the Army is not only taking the Texas National Guard out of its combat aviation role, it would take the entire National Guard out of a combat aviation role.
There is an effort in Congress to force the Army to reconsider the cuts. House Bill 3930 is the National Commission for the Structure of the Army Act. It calls for the formation of a commission to examine the proper mix for full time and National Guard/Reserve forces.