SALT LAKE CITY — More than 200 Utah National Guard members could be out of a job if the federal government cuts the state's fleet of Apache helicopters.
The Army chief of staff has proposed removing AH-64 Apache helicopters from the country's National Guard units, including Utah's 211th Aviation Group, to save money. The cut requires approval from Congress and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Utah National Guard Gen. Jefferson Burton said Monday he opposes the proposal to limit Apaches to active Army units only.
"We believe it's overkill, No. 1," Burton said. "We also believe it's dangerous because it takes the National Guard out of the combat aviation business."
An estimated 212 Utah National Guard members could be out of work if the Apaches assigned to the state are taken out of the arsenal, Burton said. Utah is approved to host up to 24 Apaches and currently has 16.
Burton says the National Guard can operate the Apaches at half the cost and has a better safety record.
"We've got to balance the cost versus the safety of our public," he said. "We believe that the National Guard is a good value for the money and that by spreading those combat forces across the nation, the public is better served and better secured."
Concentrating the Apaches to only a few locations across the country compromises the National Guard's ability to respond in emergency situations like a flood or an earthquake, Burton said. For example, during Utah's wildfire season, the Apaches have been used to scout hot spots.
In the past five years, active duty Army pilots have recorded 10 accidents in Afghanistan attributed to pilot error, while National Guard pilots have had none, Burton said.
About 300 members of 211th recently spent a year in Afghanistan doing aerial reconnaissance work and providing escorts to coalition aircraft.
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Gov. Gary Herbert and members of Utah's congressional delegation said Monday they didn't have any comment on the proposed Apache cut, which is still early in the process.
Representatives from the National Guard could be meeting with staff members for Utah's elected leaders by Friday, Burton said.
"We're doing what we can to let the delegation know this is an issue and a concern," he said. "We're moving as quickly as we can, citizen soldiers, to make sure the issue is known."