Pennsylvania Apaches join Northern Strike

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GRAYLING, Mich. — While it’s only a four-hour flight from Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, the Grayling Air Gunnery Range opens up a world of possibilities for the 1/104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB), a Pennsylvania National Guard unit based in Johnstown.

A portion of the unit consisting of six AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, arrived Saturday and will participate in Operation Northern Strike, conducting close air support for ground units.  They will fire live rounds from the 30mm chain gun and 70mm rockets.  The only simulated munitions will be the Hellfire missiles.

“We can fly in Pennsylvania but we can’t shoot, so this is a great asset,” said Capt. Blake Kane of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Though the unit arrived with only six AH-64 Apache helicopters, they intend to return in 2015 with all 20.

“We plan to come back next year for Annual Training,” said Kane.

Operation Northern Strike comes a month after the 1/104th completed its gunnery qualification at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  This qualification is required for all Apache units and is a comprehensive test of each crew’s prowess with the weapon systems and aerobatics during both day and nighttime operations.

“This came at a really good time because we’re fresh from qualification,” said Kane.  When asked if the Grayling Air Gunnery Range could be used as the site for their next annual qualification, Kane said he was unsure but it was being looked into.

The Air Gunnery Range offers unparalleled realism.   As in real-world operations, attack aircraft are directed by coordinators on the ground called Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTACs.  The JTACs, assisted by Joint Forward Observers, are co-located with ground units and are most capable of determining the type of air support is needed.  JTACs convey these needs to the aircrews and are able to give authorization for the delivery of an Apache’s deadly payload.

“It’s all about the guys on the ground, that’s why we’re here,” stated Kane.

According to its website, Camp Grayling’s mission is to provide “Year round customer-focused training support and high quality facilities to enable military commanders to meet their unit readiness requirements,” and according to the 1/104th ARB, that mission is being accomplished.

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Story by Capt. Brian Anderson, 126 Press Camp Headquarters, Michigan National Guard