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NEWS | March 7, 2016

Last Flight of the AH-64D Apache in the U.S. Army Reserve as the Ghostriders Transition to UH-60L Blackhawks

By Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Bailey 11th Theater Aviation Command

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 Apaches.”

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.”