Blackhawk helicopters could be relocated from the Smyrna Airport to Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo submitted)
SMYRNA, Tenn. — State Adjutant Gen. Max Haston said he is alarmed that the Tennessee Army National Guard’s helicopter flight units are being threatened with removal from the federal inventory.
Plus, there have been recent talks with state officials about the possible of relocating the historic Black Hawk unit based at Smyrna Airport to Barry Field at Nashville International Airport, which could have a negative impact on Rutherford County’s economy, said Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed and Smyrna Airport Executive Director John Black.
“We are doing everything we can to encourage the military not to move our Black Hawk unit or the state’s other Guard flight units that bring public safety reassurance plus thousands of jobs to our town,” Reed said. “The military presence has a long tradition in Smyrna, and we value our military people.”
“Presently, we have more than 1,200 soldiers and multiple Guard units based at Smyrna Airport,” Black added. “However, if they do choose to move the Black Hawks to Nashville, we’ve been advised the airport would still serve as the unit’s training site. But yes, such a move could result in negative economic results for our airport and the community.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlias, who represents the 4th Congressional District, also voiced concerns about the possible loss of the helicopter units.
“The National Guard plays a vital role in our military efforts and the Army should be extremely careful to not cut components that are critical to maintaining our national defense,” he said. “I will be communicating directly with the Pentagon to ensure that Tennessee continues to have equipment and manpower needed to serve both our state and country.”
The Guard has had a presence in Smyrna since 1970 when Sewart Air Force Base was closed.
Lascassas resident retired Lt. Col. Hooper Penuel, who served in the National Guard, also warns against losing the helicopter units.
“Removing assets for realignment is necessary in the military in some instances,” said Penuel, a former chief public information officer for the National Guard. “But, it should not be considered when it lowers the Guard’s capabilities without a suitable replacement agreement with the state. It must have the equipment necessary to do their joint missions, serving the nation in national defense and serving Tennessee in disasters when necessary.”
Haston said his “main concern” is the current threat to eliminate units of the 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron that flies the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, based at Jackson and Knoxville.
This squadron is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan with the aircraft later this year.
Haston said the negative economic impact could be serious.
“If the Army follows this course of action, Tennessee will lose 30 helicopters and the 692 soldiers who support them,” he said. “It will also eliminate 113 full-time jobs and possibly two or three Army flight facilities across the state.”
“If the OH-58s (reconnaissance choppers) and LUH-72 (Hughies) are removed from the National Guard, we lose a valuable asset to the governor in the event of emergencies,” he added.
The LUH-72 is primarily utilized in the state’s county drug missions and numerous other missions that do not require heavy lift capability, Haston added.
“The National Guard has the most seasoned pilots and maintainers, and National Guard aircraft maintenance readiness levels are consistently better than our active component counterparts,” he said. “Taking attack and reconnaissance aviation from the National Guard is simply not the best business practice.”