State Journal-Register

November 07, 2003

Guard member says helicopters lack defense

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A National Guard member in Iraq alleges that six of the 13 helicopters remaining in his unit after one was shot down Sunday are lacking basic anti-missile defense systems.

In addition, three are missing seat armor that could protect the pilot, he claims.

The new details came in an e-mail from the Guard member to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday. Durbin's staff provided the e-mail to Copley News Service Thursday, but wouldn't identify the Guard member by name or state.

However, the downed helicopter was from the Bartonville-based F Company, 106th Aviation Battalion, which has a detachment in Iowa. The unit had sent 14 of its helicopters to Iraq - seven from the Illinois National Guard and seven from Iowa, including the one that was shot down. The incident killed 16 soldiers, among them the pilot, 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas of Genoa.

The e-mail refers to the ALQ-156, an anti-missile defense system that Pentagon officials insist is widely available to Guard units to install.

"... As it stands, we deployed from the States with two ALQ-156s and received an additional six about a month ago from the California Guard. So, we are still missing the equipment for six aircraft," the Guard member wrote to Durbin's office.

A Pentagon spokesman Wednesday confirmed that the downed helicopter had the missile protection equipment. But Marine Capt. David Romley said he couldn't say whether the other Guard helicopters had the ALQ-156, only that the missile defense system was "available" to the Guard.

The Guard member also said the now 13-helicopter unit is missing three seats of armor, meant to protect the pilot from shrapnel.

"Those aircraft that have or had deficiencies have to date been flown with waiver letters for flight in a combat area," the Guard member wrote to Durbin's office.

Earlier this week, Durbin urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that Guard helicopters are provided the same protective equipment as those assigned to the regular Army, and to restrict their flight in combat zones until they get it.