Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ken Jones, 1st Battalion, 211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion takes his last flight in a AH-64 Apache with his son Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jared Jones as his co-pilot in West Jordan Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Army's decision to keep reserve Apache helicopter battalions in four states, including Utah, preserved hundreds of Utah National Guard positions.

In making the decision, Army Secretary Mark Esper followed the National Commission on the Future of the Army’s recommendation to retain four attack-reconnaissance battalions, each with 18 aircraft, in Utah, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

"It would have been a tremendous hit to the Utah National Guard," said Lt. Col. Ricky Smith, the 97th Aviation Troop commander. "It would have been the civilian equivalent to a layoff."

The Guard's 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, which faced elimination four years ago when the Army considered absorbing reserve Apache battalions into the regular Army, has 403 personnel and 150 full-time jobs.

Smith said battalion leaders contacted Utah's congressional delegation for help when they found out the 211th could be on the chopping block.

"We were not just going to sit down and take it and have them leave the state," he said.

The Army delegated the National Guard Bureau to come up with merit-based criteria to judge Apache battalions in nine states. It decided to keep the four highest-performing battalions.

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"We kind of got lucky in Utah," said Smith, a former 211th commander. "Utah is a hotbed for very qualified people."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he's pleased with the decision.

"After fighting for performance-based decision-making for four years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is appropriate that Utah’s guardsmen and women will continue fulfilling their commitments to our country through their contributions to readiness with the Apache," Lee said in a statement.

Contributing: Paul Nelson