"National Guard taking copters to Lakehurst
Army-Navy deal struck for efficiency's sake
Sunday, August 10, 2003"
"BY WAYNE WOOLLEY
The New Jersey Army National Guard expects to move its aviation headquarters from a commercial airport near Trenton to the Navy base in Lakehurst early next year, officials said last week.
Besides the helicopters based at Trenton Mercer Airport, a National Guard helicopter from Picatinny Arsenal will be moved to Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst.
"It's the department's intent to consolidate our aviation assets at Lakehurst," said Lt. Col. Roberta Niedt, spokeswoman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Niedt said the move will save fuel by shortening the distance that some two dozen helicopters must fly to training areas at Fort Dix, adjacent to the Lakehurst base.
The unit making the move, the 1st Battalion of the 150th General Services Aviation Regiment, has been based at the Mercer County airport in Ewing since 1977. The battalion has about 800 members.
Niedt said the move away from a commercial airport also should ease the safety concerns of the airport's neighbors.
The National Guard plans to continue keeping helicopter maintenance shops at both the Mercer and Morris county locations.
Discussions about the move to Lakehurst began more than three years ago. In preparation for the battalion's arrival, Lakehurst officials over the past year have cleared a 61,000-square- foot building that can be used for offices and aircraft hangars, said Tom Szallai, the Navy installation's director of business development.
The timing of the move is predicated on the arrival of new helicopters promised by Pentagon officials who are working to upgrade equipment used by the National Guard, which is funded by the federal government but controlled by each state.
Under the plan, New Jersey will receive eight AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and eight new UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which are primarily used to carry troops, to supplement the current fleet of Black Hawks, UH-1 Huey cargo helicopters and OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters. The first of the new helicopters are scheduled to arrive in the spring.
The Army move to a Navy base is expected to strengthen the base's profile as Pentagon officials look for more than 125 installations to close beginning in 2005.
The federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission -- which has the final say on which of the country's 500 major military installations will be shut -- is expected to look favorably on bases that house units from more than one military branch.
"For BRAC, it's a strong suit for a base to say we're bringing another service on board," said Jeff Sagnip Hollendonner, a spokesman for Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3rd Dist.), a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Officials said the move is not expected to have any impact on Picatinny Arsenal's standing before the federal commission. The base is the Army's top research-and-development center for munitions.
Lakehurst is a 7,400-acre base that serves as the Navy's proving ground for launch and recovery systems for aircraft carriers."