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Air Force delivers 4 Apaches to Germany

A load crew pushes an AH-64 Apache clear of a C-5 Galaxy at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 22, 2017

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Transported in the wide bellies of the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, four Apache attack helicopters arrived here on a wind-whipped Wednesday morning, the first of what will likely be many stops as the choppers begin a 9-month deployment in Europe.

The Apaches arrived from Fort Bliss, Texas, in two C-5 Galaxies. One carried the maximum load of three, the other just one Apache, demonstrating the Air Force’s ability to move large pieces of equipment swiftly across vast distances as it seeks to bolster its presence in eastern Europe.

The helicopters, part of the 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, will join 20 more of the unit’s deployed Apaches in Illesheim, Germany, before fanning out to Latvia, Poland, Romania and possibly other NATO allies in eastern Europe, military officials said Wednesday. The other Apaches arrived by sea in the German port of Bremerhaven over the weekend.

The rotation is part of a larger 9-month deployment to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is aimed at deterring Russian military adventurism in the region. It involves about 2,200 soldiers and 80 some aircraft, including Army Black Hawks and Chinooks, in addition to the Apaches.

“This is the United States’ commitment to the security of Europe and the helicopters are just one piece of that,” said Army Brig. Gen. Phillip S. Jolly, U.S. Army Europe’s deputy commanding general for mobilization and reserve affairs.

“The helicopters enable us to improve our interoperability with our allies and partners and to ensure their security and deter Russia.”

The Apaches and other aircraft will train with partner nations while deployed, pairing up with ground forces in some scenarios, officials said.

“It’s us working together, understanding what each other does, what our limitations are, what we bring to a potential fight,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, U.S. Air Forces in Europe — Air Forces Africa vice commander.

The deployment was in the planning stages for months, well before the change in administrations in Washington and recent comments by Vice President Mike Pence that NATO allies need to meet their obligation by increasing defense spending.

When asked by a German reporter about the current debate over NATO allies’ spending, Jolly said there was no debate.

“He was speaking on behalf of President Trump. We don’t see a debate, Jolly said of Pence. “We don’t see a conflict. The United States is totally committed to the alliance, NATO and European security.”

The Apaches deployed from the U.S. will augment about 24 Apaches still assigned to Germany as part of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. They were supposed to be pulled from Germany as part of a larger Army drawdown but they’re still here for the time being, a USAREUR official said.

After arriving at Ramstein Wednesday, it will take about 24 hours to get the Apaches mission ready for their flight to Illesheim, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kourtney Roundtree, a production control officer with the 501st.

The Apaches, each weighing about 16,000 pounds without ordnance, were slowly rolled down the open nose of the C-5. Their rotor blades, which were dismantled for the flight, have to be put back on, Roundtree said.

“This is the most tedious part of the process but we have to make sure it’s done safely,” he said.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

A load crew member watches for obstructions while unloading an AH-64 Apache from a C-5 Galaxy at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

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