Alaska Editorial: Attack helicopters a strong addition to Interior military arsenal

  • Friday, June 10, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

If you see an unfamiliar aircraft in the skies around town, it might not be your eyes playing tricks on you. A battalion of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters has arrived at Fort Wainwright, rounding out what has become a full-feature fighting force at the Army’s northernmost major post on U.S. soil. The arrival of the battalion, featuring 24 Apaches in total, is the first time the helicopters have been based in Alaska. They will be a strong component in Fort Wainwright’s arsenal, as well as a valuable tool for U.S. Army Alaska.

The battalion, now flagged as the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, began arriving in late summer last year. It replaced Fort Wainwright’s now-retired fleet of 26 Kiowa Warrior helicopters. In terms of offensive capability, it was a major upgrade. The Apaches, formerly based in Germany and moved to Alaska as a result of Army cost-cutting measures, are described by the Department of Defense as the Army’s “primary attack helicopter … a quick-reacting, airborne weapon system that can fight close and deep to destroy, disrupt, or delay enemy forces.” Each carries 16 Hellfire missiles, a 30mm cannon and 2.75-inch Hydra 70 rockets.

The arrival of the Apaches is the latest signal of the military’s commitment to its Pacific-facing strategic posture, which has resulted in a more capable fighting force in the Interior. Even in the face of troop reductions nationwide, the news for the Interior has been mostly good. The basing of two squadrons of F-35 fighters at Eielson Air Force Base, Army renovation and expansion of missile defense capacity at Fort Greely, the selection of Clear Air Force Station as the site of a Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) installation to help aid in missile defense and early warning, the retention of Fort Wainwright’s 1-25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team and the addition of both the Apaches and unmanned Gray Eagles have all bolstered the Interior’s role in supporting the national defense.

A large part of the community’s place in that effort is providing a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for military members, just as Interior residents do for all manner of new arrivals to the neighborhood. This support pays dividends not only in the present, through stronger ties with local troops and military installations, but also when soldiers and airmen end their careers. The greater Fairbanks and North Pole area has one of the highest per-capita populations of retired veterans of any U.S. municipality.

So if you see the members of the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion around town, bid them welcome. Their presence helps strengthen Fort Wainwright and the greater Fairbanks community — may they be a part of Interior life for many years to come.

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