Rotor & Wing International

Supporting the Supporting Roles

The National Guard truly wears two hats: one as the ready reserve force for the U.S. Army in times of armed conflict and the other as the support provider to its respective state governments in times of public need.

The National Guard truly wears two hats: one as the ready reserve force for the U.S. Army in times of armed conflict and the other as the support provider to its respective state governments in times of public need.

The demands placed on the U.S. military since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, have been unprecedented. Call it what you might — war, armed conflict, human-caused disasters — the U.S. military has been on a combat footing for 15 years. Both the Army and Air National Guard have been actively involved and have done their country and themselves proud.

With the National Guard’s multi-year focus on combat operations, it would be easy to forget that the civil mission responsibility is an integral part of its reason for being. Acts of terrorism are a reality. These new contingencies are affecting state and local emergency planners in a profound way. The Guard has the right mix of crew and equipment to be a force multiplier in response to both natural catastrophes and acts of terrorism to ensure our country’s safety.

The U.S. Army has proposed a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) on a large number of Sikorsky Black Hawk L models. The V model is proposed as the designation of this configuration. As a consultant to some of the companies proffering products to this program, I have both briefed and been briefed on different facets of this program.

In my mind, SLEP revolves around the following questions. Will the National Guard be the primary operator of the V model? Will the Army mandate that the V model be as much a clone of the current Army M model as possible? Alternatively, will the unique civil mission requirements of the National Guard in support of its state governments be accommodated in the mission equipment package of the V model?

The Guard has not suggested anything that would degrade the V model’s ability to fulfill its combat commitment. But there are concerns about the Army’s willingness to listen to the National Guard and incorporate the specialized equipment the Guard needs to fulfill its civil mission. I think it’s important for us, the taxpaying public, to fully understand what’s at stake.

National Guard aviation commanders should perform an unbiased reading of their agency’s mission statement before any public safety aviation entity looks to acquire new aircraft or modify its existing fleet. The Guard’s mission is to maintain properly trained and equipped units, available for prompt mobilization for war, national emergency or as otherwise needed.

Guard members understand mobilization for war. The Guard should review its past successful civil missions then critically review any training or mission equipment shortfalls that it encountered.

I would then suggest sitting down with Guard counterparts in the state and local civilian emergency management systems, including sheriffs, police and fire chiefs that make up the Guard’s customer base in times of need. The key is to not come to them with a response of, “This is what we can do,” but to start the conversation with the question, “What would you like us to accomplish in the support of your overall mission?”

It’s not a perfect world, and the National Guard is not going to be able to accomplish everything that these folks might ask for, but it will promote a dialogue of the possibilities.

Next, it’s important to look at how some aviation units operate — such as those from the Los Angeles County fire and sheriff departments, the New York Police Dept. and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. There are decades of experience in these units serving the public in times of emergencies.

This should lead the National Guard to a point where it can critically define its responsibilities, and identify its current and expanded mission sets and the specialized equipment and training needed to fulfill these tasks.

The Guard and its state and local partners need to convince the Army and U.S. Congress that the National Guard’s civil responsibility is an issue of national security.

I, for one, think so. It deserves our long-lasting support. R&WI