SANDSTON, Va. –
Robert Mosier, the Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and Eric Moeller, the Virginia Chief Transformation Officer, along with representatives from Governor Glenn Youngkin’s office and the Virginia Congressional Delegation, visited the Virginia National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility April 21, 2022, in Sandston, Virginia.
During their visit, the group, which included representatives from the offices of Sen. Tim Kaine and Representatives A. Donald McEachin, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton, listened to presentations from key Virginia National Guard senior leaders highlighting the complex mission of VNG’s aviation elements and the need for a new AASF. Afterwards, the group toured the existing AASF and took an aerial tour aboard UH-60 Black Hawks of the proposed location for the future facility, as well as key VNG facilities in the Richmond area.
Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, spoke to the group first, giving an overview of the Virginia National Guard, highlighting the organization’s force structure and state and federal missions. Willams also spoke to the group about the urgent need for congressional funding to build a new support facility before the lease on the current AASF expires in 2032.
“As we are sitting at the home for aviation, it is important to acknowledge its prominence in our operations. In fact, aviation as a whole is one of the highest called-on formations that we have. The air crews are turned to extensively,” said Williams. “If we don’t have a new facility, we will lose our aviation capability, and that’s just a nonstarter.”
“If you don’t have a facility that can support the helicopters, they don’t want you to have the helicopters,” added Charlton Dunn, Virginia National Guard construction and facilities management officer. “If the Army is reorganizing aviation structure and also fielding new airframes at about the same time that you are missing and fighting for a structure, they’re going to get two birds with one stone. We are at risk of losing some or all of our aviation force structure if we don’t solve this in a timely manner.”
The current AASF was constructed in the 1960s and is not suited to properly maintain the VNG’s current or future fleet of airframes. One of the biggest issues is a lack of adequate indoor storage space for the organization’s helicopters.
“It’s an 8-bay hangar, in which they also have to do maintenance on 28 aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing,” explained Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, the VNG Director of the Joint Staff. “So, we’re severely under-structured. Back in the mid-90s, the Army recognized that these multi-million dollar aircraft with high-end electronics need to go under roof, and have to have allocated the maintenance bay space for it. So, starting in the mid-90s, we began to put infrastructure into our aviation support facilities across the 50 states. The vast majority of them have already been built, and Virginia’s just catching up.”
Despite the shortcomings of the aging current facility, the Virginia National Guard’s aviation personnel have maintained exemplary aircraft maintenance and readiness standards. Col. William X. Taylor, the State Aviation Officer and commander of the AASF, said it’s the state’s experienced leadership and aviators who have led the charge to make sure they’re ready for any state or federal missions.
“We’ve got a lot of senior aviators with thousands of hours and multiple deployments. We’re very strong on the pilot side and on crew chiefs,” said Taylor. “The relationship between the aviation battalion and the support facility is great. We understand our role as an AASF, as a support facility, to make sure the units are deployable and ready.”
The proposed new facility is a short distance from the existing one and adjacent to the Richmond International Airport, and is integrated with the Capital Region Airport Commission’s master plan for the area surrounding the airport. Funding has already been secured to complete the design process for the new AASF, which will include significantly increased hangar space designed to accommodate both the current fleet and any new vertical lift capabilities the Army switches to in years to come.
“The objective is to construct a full AASF requirement ready for activation no later than 2032. It’s designed to accommodate future vertical lift candidates,” said Dunn. “We’re not asking for anything special. We’re asking for what the Army says we need to get our job done.”
With the design of the new AASF funded, the push for $89 million in funding for construction of the new facility takes center stage. The goal is for the entire project to be funded in one go, as opposed to being funded and engineered in stages, which will save time and money.
“Last year, you guys were able to get us a community project funding for the balance of the money needed to take that design to 100%,” said Dunn to the gathered delegation. “We can now design the entire thing - one design, one contract, one engineering firm. That’s wonderful. Now we want to do the same thing on the construction side. Our recommendation, our proposal is that in FY24, we seek the balance of the money necessary to fund 100% of construction.”
Dunn also stressed that the chosen location adjacent to the airport means that the VNG aviation capability remains centrally located within the state, allowing for quick response to potential disasters in both Washington, D.C., or Hampton Roads.
Virginia’s aviation assets have wide-reaching impacts, including serving Virginia National Guard’s formations and training with elements from other states, services and installations. They are also partnered with Chesterfield County Fire and EMS to form the Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, which can perform critical response and rescues during state disaster response operations. These important missions make getting timely funding for the new facility to support the state’s aviation capabilities a massive priority.
“As far as responsibilities and support from here, providing trained air crews, aircraft and equipment readiness is what we do,” said Taylor. “We need to make sure we’re ready for the future.”