Alaska’s 1st Apache helicopters arrive from Germany
August 20, 2015
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The first of 24 Apache AH-64 attack helicopters arrived Tuesday at their new home, Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Two Apaches, shipped from Katterbach, Germany, were unloaded from an Air Force Galaxy C-5 cargo jet at Wainwright’s Ladd Army Air Field, said Col. Blake Alexander, commander of the U.S. Army Alaska Aviation Task Force.
“This is the first time Apaches have been stationed in Alaska,” said Alexander, whose task force includes a battalion of UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters that carry troops and cargo.
The two-seater Apache, armed with Hellfire missiles, Hydra rockets and a 30 mm chain gun, is the Army’s primary attack helicopter.
“It is a quick-reacting, airborne weapon system that can fight close and deep to destroy, disrupt or delay enemy forces,” according to a U.S. Army Alaska news release.
A new unit — the 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment (Attack/Reconnaissance), 25th Infantry Division — that includes 400 soldiers will fly the Alaska Apaches. The core of the unit’s personnel and its first two helicopters have come from Katterbach, where the Army recently inactivated the 3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment (Attack/Reconnaissance), Alexander said.
The new battalion will fall in on facilities vacated by 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, which flew Kiowa helicopters out of Fort Wainwright until its inactivation in April, he said.
The first job for soldiers assigned to the new unit will be moving into maintenance facilities and hangars on Fort Wainwright and training to operate in the Arctic, Alexander said.
“Then we will get them on the ranges to do gunnery and get them mission qualified,” he said.
The Apaches will train with U.S. Army Alaska’s Stryker and airborne infantry units, integrate with the Air Force’s long-range sensors and participate in next year’s Red Flag Alaska exercise, he said.
Basing the helicopters in Alaska is in line with the rebalance of military forces to the Pacific.
“Fort Wainwright is a great location strategically for the Army as far as forward positioning of forces,” Alexander said.
The base is closer to many potential hotspots in the Pacific than the continental U.S., U.S. Army Alaska officials said.
Apaches are already stationed in South Korea, and there will likely be another Apache unit stationed in Hawaii within a year, Alexander said.
The Alaska-based Apaches will join large-scale training at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California, and deploy overseas for Pacific Pathways, a program of engagement with U.S. partners in the Pacific.
Apaches can land on ships — something the Army has been doing as part of Pacific Pathways — if crews are trained and a mission requires it, but that likely won’t happen much at landlocked Fort Wainwright, Alexander said.
The Apaches will team with 12 Gray Eagle drones due to join them next year, he said. Apache crews will be able to take control of the Gray Eagles in flight and use them to scout ahead for danger without exposing the manned helicopter, according to officials.
U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Lt. Col. Alan Brown said the Apache unit’s arrival won’t offset the loss of Army personnel in Alaska signaled by the Department of Defense earlier this year, because the additional troops are replacing those who were flying the Kiowas.
However, stationing Apaches at Fort Wainwright means the number of soldiers stationed near Fairbanks will fall only by about 70 over the next few years, a drop in the bucket compared to the 2,600 soldiers who will depart Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage under the drawdown, he said.