The Illinois National Guard pushed 40 pilots through UH-60 Blackhawk training last year at a cost to taxpayers of about $1.4 million — even though it had no Blackhawks and had not been told to expect them.
Another 33 training slots were used by the Wisconsin National Guard, meaning the two states took almost half of the 154 Blackhawk pilot slots used by the Guard nationwide from Oct. 1, 1993, through Sept. 30.
An Illinois Guard spokesman said last month that another 16 pilots were scheduled to attend Blackhawk school soon.
According to figures from the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which is responsible for all Army training, it costs about $30,000 to train a pilot already qualified on another helicopter to fly the Blackhawk. That figure does not include daily pay, travel and per diem, which averages about $6,000 a student.
The high number of slots used by the two states, and the number of senior pilots who used them, attracted the attention of the office of the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations.
The Belleville News-Democrat obtained an internal executive summary of a September meeting in which the office's staff said the Illinois Guard abused Blackhawk training quotas and violated the intent of a December 1993 agreement to transfer Army Reserve aviation positions and equipment to the National Guard.
Under the agreement, the National Guard was supposed to recruit as many reserve pilots as possible into the Guard to reduce costs of the transfer.
But according to the summary, the Guard instead pushed as many pilots as possible through Blackhawk training. A congressional staffer familiar with the transfer agreement said he was not surprised.
"To sell it on the Hill, they said there would be a reasonable attempt to recruit reservists," said the staffer, who asked not to be identified. "But the truth is, they never had any intention of doing that."
The Army staff also was concerned that many of the pilots were senior
officers near or past retirement eligibility. The Army calls such pilots
the "aging aviator problem" and has directed that, in a period of reduced
funding, training funds should be used for younger pilots likely
to spend more years flying.
One of the Illinois pilots was a lieutenant colonel, and 14 others held the rank of chief warrant officer. Typically, such officers have 20 or more years in uniform.
Illinois has since acquired 10 Blackhawks from an Army Reserve battalion at Scott Air Force Base, five in December and five last week. The Blackhawks were delivered to existing Guard helicopter units in Peoria, Decatur and Chicago.
But Guard officials admit that the Blackhawks are being carried on their books as excess equipment and that they still do not know how many they will keep.
"How many we will have where is still being determined," said Lt. Col. Don Bradley, public affairs officer for the Illinois Guard. "We're still working on force-structure issues."
Originally Published, January 23, 1995, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1995, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
GWI Anthrax Gen. Borisov Other Military Stories