South Carolina National Guard Apache crew named top team in inaugural Gunfighter Fly-in helicopter competition

South Carolina National Guard Apache crew named top team in inaugural Gunfighter Fly-in helicopter competition

Gunfighter Fly-in competition participants take a group photo in front of AH-64D Apache helicopters Nov. 6 at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Ariz. The Arizona National Guard hosted the inaugural competition that brought together the best company-grade National Guard Apache helicopter crews and maintenance personnel from seven states for the training event that was also a forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices in the National Guard Apache helicopter community.

PHOENIX – The South Carolina National Guard took home the top performing team award for the inaugural AH-64D Apache Gunfighter Fly-in helicopter competition Nov. 6, during a closing ceremony at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Arizona.

Seven states sent their best company-grade Apache pilots and maintenance support personnel to the desert of southern Arizona to participate in the four-day competition, which consisted of graded gunnery and flying scenarios. Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah competed in the training exercise designed to build unity of effort and camaraderie among the National Guard Apache helicopter states.

The Gunfighter Fly-in events increased the readiness of the National Guard Apache community to respond to missions at a moment’s notice and provide “forces that are capable of fighting and winning the nation’s wars,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, the adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard.

“You’re coming in with intention to win, so you’ve done things ahead of time to make sure you’re ready to show up and be competitive,” McGuire said. “This is not unlike you are when you hit the ground running for your pre-mobilization training getting ready to deploy forward.”

McGuire said the participating states left the competition better at their mission than when they arrived.

“Competition by its very nature makes the organization more capable, stronger and a better warfighter,” he said. “Now more than ever we have the ability to use a citizen-soldier construct to meet the nation’s defense needs.”

While the personality profile of a typical Apache pilot naturally aligns with competition, the greatest benefit of the first-of-its-kind event was not the quest to win bragging rights for the team's home state, but rather the exchange of ideas and learning that took place during the week, said Capt. Andrew Jewkes, of the Utah National Guard.

Throughout the exercise, pilots and crews had the opportunity to share combat experiences, best practices and lessons learned.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 George Protzman, of the South Carolina National Guard top Gunfighter team, said that his most valuable takeaway was “just sitting down and having that casual conversation” about what has worked for each crew in the past.

This year’s inaugural event participants expressed anticipation for another Gunfighter Fly-in competition in the future.

“As soon as we get home, we’re going to start training for next year,” Protzman said.