Story by:  Spc. Elizabeth Smith

Posted: November 9, 2015

Gunfighter Fly-In
Spc. Elizabeth Smith
Spc. Ryan Santana, a member of the Arizona National Guard, arms an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter for the Utah Army National Guard for the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-In in preparation for the gunnery event.

MARANA, Ariz. – The Arizona National Guard is hosting the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-in at Silverbell Army Heliport here Nov. 1 to Nov. 6. Seven of the eight states in the National Guard that operate the AH-64D Apache helicopters—Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah—sent two of their best company-grade crews and maintenance support personnel to participate in the four-day event.

The crews are competing head-to-head in the Gunfighter Fly-in competition, which includes a variety of graded flying and gunnery scenarios: manned unmanned teaming with the small unmanned aerial system, a live fire exercise at the Goldwater Gunnery Range, performance in the simulator and a written gunnery skills test. 

The top team will receive an award for its performance and bragging rights for its home state. 

“We welcome competition,” said Capt. Ben Hickman, Commander of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion with the Texas Army National Guard. “That’s one of the things about being a gunfighter. We all have type-A personalities and so we look forward to getting to compete but at the same time the underlying thing of this is to integrate with other units.” 

The Gunfighter Fly-in is an opportunity to share tactics, techniques and procedures, best practices and lessons learned throughout the National Guard Apache community. The competition also builds a unity of effort among National Guard Apache helicopter states. 

“This is a great opportunity to network with your peers,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leonard Vidalez of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion Texas Army National Guard. “Everybody has experiences and knowledge to share with one another; it’s just more information for your tool kit to use at a future date or implement at the very next mission.” 

The vast amount of skills and experience throughout the National Guard Apache community are invaluable to the Total Force. 

“We have the same skill sets, we have the same capabilities, same abilities, so we’re a key enabler and contributor to the active component fight, both for foreseen and unforeseen events across the globe,” said Col. Christopher Baril, the 98th Aviation Troop Command and Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site Brigade Commander.

The presence of Apache assets in the Army National Guard continues the guard’s ability to conduct training and is critical to the safety of deployed forces.

“Apaches are vital because in times of war or having to go solve a problem overseas with our active duty counterparts we need to be manned and equipped the same way so that there is synergy on the battlefield once we get there,” Baril said.

The Gunfighter Fly-in isn’t just about the lessons shared, the skills gained or the experience traded. It also has a little bit to do with the competition that brings these units closer together and makes the overall experience more effective for training purposes.

“It’s a competition but you wish everybody the best and you want everybody to be safe,” Hickman said. “We’re a close-knit community; we’re a very small community. When we come together we’re one team. We’re one family.”