It was a proud, historic, and emotional moment for the Army—especially for the Soldiers in the 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack/Reconnaissance) (1/149 ARB).
The last AH-64A Apache helicopter, Aircraft 451, was retired from the Army and handed over to the Project Office for Apache Helicopters during a ceremony July 15 at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, TX. The event was hosted by the Texas Army National Guard’s 1/149 ARB, the 36th Infantry Division unit that had the last A-model Apache in its fleet.
The aircraft was flown to San Angelo, TX, by CW5 Jim Sandberg, 1/149 ARB Standardization Pilot, and CW2 Adrian Domonoski, Maintenance Test Officer. There, it is being disassembled, to be taken to the Boeing facility in Mesa, AZ, and reconfigured into the next generation AH-64D Apache Longbow.
“As the Project Manager for the Apache attack helicopter, I’m really proud to take custody of the 451,” said COL Shane Openshaw. “In about a year from now, you’ll see 451 come out of the production line as the latest and last AH-64D.”
Aircraft 451 has a long and proud history with the 1/149 ARB, which was nominated recently for the Valorous Unit Award. Four of its aviators were recognized with the Distinguished Flying Cross for their heroism and extraordinary achievements in Ramadi, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Aircraft 451 took heavy ballistic damage, but the aircraft, crew, and the Soldiers they protected always came home safely.
“It’s like losing an old friend,” said CPT Stacy James Rostorfer, Bravo Company Commander. “That aircraft has saved my life; it has saved many lives. It’s armored in all the right places, so you can go in, protect others, and protect yourself. We always brought everybody home.” Rostorfer, a longtime fan of the Apache, recalled playing with Apache models when he was 10 years old. “They’re still in the basement of my parents’ house. I’ll never part with it.”
During the ceremony, LTC Derrek Hryhorchuk, 1/149 ARB Commander, recounted the unit’s heroism, remembering that Aircraft 451 kept them safe and alive. “We’re going to make sure that aircraft goes out in style,” he said. Hryhorchuk had flown the Apache’s predecessor, the AH-1 Cobra, and noted that things needing improvement in the Cobra were improved in the A-model Apache. “I’m looking forward to the capabilities that needed to be improved in the A model that are now in the D-model Longbow.”
MG William “Tim” Crosby, Program Executive Officer Aviation, said during his ceremonial remarks that “these types of ceremonies, and in the company of Soldiers, are the constant reminders of why we do what we do, and why we strive to do it better every day. To all the Soldiers, God bless you.”
Although the spotlight was on the aircraft, Crosby said, “I’m not here to talk about the aircraft. I’m here to talk about you—you, the Soldiers of the Texas National Guard, who have stood up and said, ‘I want to make a difference, I want to give back to my country.’ ” And it’s your pride, your courage, your passion that make that aircraft special. Because aircraft don’t fly—aviators fly. And they fly because of the mechanics and the crew chiefs who make them ready to fly.”
MG James K. “Red” Brown, Commanding General of the 36th Infantry Division, echoed Crosby’s remarks. “Never in the history of the United States has there been a better integration between the active component and the reserve component,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what uniform you put on. You add concrete to the foundation that this Nation was built upon—our volunteer Soldiers. Apaches give us the capability to prevent those who wish to harm us, and enable us to protect the values and freedoms that make this country great.”
Remarking on the “end of an era,” David Koopersmith, Vice President of Boeing’s Attack Helicopter Programs, said, “It’s the Soldiers that inspire the Apache team. We’re fortunate to have the honor of providing Apache helicopters to help ensure that no fight is ever a fair fight.”
Based on combat reports, the 1/149 ARB was responsible for 26 enemy killed in action and two enemy wounded in action in Ramadi. During one mission while providing a local area orientation of Ramadi at night with the 2/159 ARB, the 1/149 was called to support. Due to “danger close” proximity with friendly units in the area, one of the 1/149 aircrews slowed to 30 knots airspeed to engage the enemy position. The aircraft received battle damage, but the crew was able to hit the tractor-trailers, resulting in a massive explosion. The aircrew was awarded the Air Medal with “V” Device for Valor.
Later in the firefight, a Soldier from 1st Battalion, 77th Armored Regiment was seriously wounded, and traditional MEDEVAC assets were not able to respond. The 1/149 ARB aircrew in Apache 451 decided to extract this wounded Soldier. They landed, and the wounded Soldier was placed in the front seat; the co-pilot gunner attached himself to the aircraft by the wing and fuselage holds. The wounded Soldier was quickly treated and received the advanced care he needed. In the end, he recovered fully from his wounds. For this action, the crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“After you get through a couple of weeks in combat, you strap yourself into an Apache, you feel a sense of invincibility,” said COL Richard Adams, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade Commander. “There are a lot of sons and daughters in America who are alive because of that aircraft.”
Because situational awareness is always key in combat, “the ground guys always requested us,” said Adams. “When Apache flies, nobody dies. I’m very privileged to lead these bunch of guys.”