March 7, 2016 –
Early on an overcast Sunday morning soldiers, both
current and former, along with family and community members met on Mar. 6 at the
Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe, Texas.
The reason for this gathering was to be, in some way, a part of U.S.
Army Reserve aviation history by saying farewell to the AH-64D Apache and
welcoming in the UH-60L Blackhawk.
This story began back in July 1988 when Lt. Col. Robert
Poland was selected to command the first U.S. Army Reserve Cavalry Squadron
fielded with 18 AH-1 Cobras, 12 OH-58 Kiowas and 3 UH-1 Hueys. 7th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment proudly
set the foundation to what would become an AH-64A Attack Helicopter squadron
and a revered member of the community of Conroe, Texas.
The citizens of Conroe, for nearly three decades, have
cared for and supported their soldiers.
Not being on a traditional military installation poses a unique set of
challenges for the soldiers and their families.
There isn’t any base housing, commissary or family programs, but what
there is, is an amazing community that has rallied many times over the years to
show support to their soldiers. Each
time when members of the unit deploys, the city has made sure they left knowing
how they are loved by this once small Texas town. The town’s people would line
the roads waving American flags as the buses departed for Fort Hood. When
arriving home, no matter the time of day, those same great Americans once again
lined the roads for nearly two miles welcoming home their heroes. Time has
changed Conroe into a thriving city north of Houston, the community involvement
remains unwavering. So during these
times it is only the aircraft that will change not the soldiers and especially
not the community that has supported their soldiers for so long.
“The strength of our nation is our Army, the strength
of our Army is our soldiers, and the strength of our soldiers is you,” added
Lt. Col. Edmund Naughton, Commander of 1-158th Aviation Regiment.
Some of the original members stood in the crowd
donning their signature black Calvary Stetsons and gold spurs. The overwhelming feeling of a reunion could be
seen in the smiles, slaps on the back and hugs from the former commanders, officers,
warrant officers and non-commissioned officers that had served together over
the years. The younger soldiers were
excited to put a face to the name of the local legends from stories passed down
over the years and much like our waist, they get bigger with time. Seeing the past meet the future further
reinforces the extraordinary capabilities of our citizen soldiers and the
communities they serve in. Countless men
and women have been a part of the heritage.
Military and civilian careers have taken them far from Conroe but each
time they return, it is as if they are returning home.
The battalion formation lined the taxi way just
outside the gate of the parking ramp. In
keeping with aviation tradition two fire trucks from the Conroe fire department
faced one another at the entrance of the gate.
As the aircraft taxied out for the final time the water cannons shot
crossing arches of water over the spinning rotors creating an indelible image
from the vortices of swirling mist. Each
pride filled Soldier stood straight as they saluted each crew as taxied towards
the runway. The five senior leaders
symbolically stood at the end of the taxiway also saluting each crew member and
all soldiers and crew members from past formations. When the final aircraft made
its way down the hill the salutes were lowered.
The sense of loss was seen in the tears of old warriors. It wasn’t just an aircraft, it was their legacy. A lifetime of commitment, untold personal and
professional sacrifices made by each of them to ensure their unit was always
ready when the nation called upon them to fight her wars.
The soldiers and aviators of 7/6 Cavalry and 1/158 along
with the Conroe community have answered that call four times since our nation
was attacked on that dreaded September morning some 15 years ago. Most U.S. Army Reserve units have a combat
service support role, like medical, transportation and logistics. The units from Conroe had a direct combat
mission to hunt and destroy the enemy, a mission they performed humbly with
deadly accuracy. It is always difficult
for the cavalryman to retire his old horse, to him a trusted and loyal friend
but retire he must.
“Times have changed,” Brig. Gen. Scott Morcomb,
commander 11th Theater Aviation Command, stated during the ceremony, “Change is
good and I am confident that you all will bring that same attack spirit, to
your new Blackhawk helicopters, which you embodied while you were flying our
With a new aircraft comes a new mission. What was once 7th Squadron, 6th Cavalry
Regiment became 1st Battalion 158th Aviation Regiment in 2009 replacing the Alpha
model Apache with the modern Delta model.
The daunting task of converting to an Assault Helicopter Battalion was
given to Lt. Col. Edmund Naughton.
“Even though we are sad to see her go, we are excited
about the versatility and multi-functionality that our new helicopter brings to
our community,” added Naughton. “If the time were to ever come when our support
is needed in cases of a natural disaster, know that we will be here – equipped,
ready and able to help.”