The First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on what is probably the most unique unit in the entire Army.

Formed even before the beginning of the American Revolution, FTPCC has been at the service of our nation ever since.

First Troop members ride in a George Washington memorial event in Philadelphia in 2006.

Gregg Connell ’s enlistment into his National Guard cavalry unit went like this:

Already well-lubricated at the armory bar, members of the troop passed around a wooden box. Those who wanted to accept Spc. Connell dropped in white marbles. Those opposed, black marbles.

White marbles outnumbering black, Spc. Connell was summoned into the armory’s mess hall, where, beneath oil paintings of bewhiskered men in silver-buttoned tunics and helmets topped with bearskin crests, the captain pinned a fabric rosette to his blue blazer. Spc. Connell saluted and signed a muster roll with names dating back to 1774.

Then he stood on a chair and sang a selection from the troop’s big book of bawdy songs: “Take It Out at the Ballgame.”

So it was that the 24-year-old aspiring architect joined what is probably the most idiosyncratic unit in the U.S. military: First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.

Hopefully the rest of the article isn’t behind the paywall for you. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s the thing, because the unit existed before the Militia Act of 1792, and subsequent revisions, it has been permitted, by law, to continue its traditions, such as election of officers.

Now, every member has to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard before standing for membership in FTPCC. There’s no guarantee they’ll get into the troop.

And while the troop seems to focus mostly on social events, understand, that is in addition to performing their actual Guard duties. That means a weekend of honest to goodness Army type drill each month, and then the troop specific stuff on a separate occasion. And troopers are expected to donate their drill pay to the troop for maintenance of troop specific property, such as the tack gear for their horses. The taxpayer isn’t funding the historical aspects nor the social aspects.

The troop or members of the troop have been activated and served in or during almost every war in our nation’s history.

Big Changes Ahead for Army Aviation?

The Army had industry partners propose an Armed Aerial Scout based on existing, in production helicopters recently to look for a replacement for its OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet. The results were not particularly impressive.

And so now, it seems Army Aviation may just get out of the armed scout business.

US Army leaders are considering scrapping its entire fleet of Bell Helicopter OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, while pulling the National Guard’s Boeing AH-64 Apaches into the active-duty force to fill the scout helicopter role as the Army seeks to fulfill its longer-term requirement of a newly developed armed aerial scout, according to several Army and defense industry sources.

The plan also calls for giving active Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard, while taking half of the Guard’s Lakota fleet, using them as active-duty trainers and scrapping its Jet Rangers.

While a final decision has yet to be made, the industry sources had the impression that the deal was all but done.

This is a fairly huge realignment of the aviation master plan. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago the OH-58D was thought good enough that the 82nd Airborne’s organic attack helicopter battalion was composed solely of Kiowas.

And as the article notes, the National Guard isn’t going to be eager to give up its Apaches to the regular Army (and all those Guard units flying Apaches each have two Senators and at least one Representative who can be counted on to ask Big Army to justify itself in excruciating detail).

Further, if all attack helicopter capability is vested in the regular Army, where will the attack helicopter support for activated National Guard divisions come from?

The article also mentions retiring the TH-67 trainer (basically a Bell Jet Ranger 206) with UH-72A Lakotas again stolen from the Guard and Reserves. Frankly, I’m not sure how much money that would save. Ordinarily, necking down the total number of types of aircraft flown is a money saving measure. But the UH-72, while cheap to fly for its mission, is still going to have much higher operating costs than the TH-67.

Interesting goings-on in the Georgia National Guard

We’re not big on bashing the National Guard*.  Many, many Guardsmen have stepped up and served overseas during the War on Terror – assuming the same risks as their active duty counterparts, and also having to deal with employers or self employment issues that us active types never had to worry about.

In Georgia, the governor just appointed a new State Adjutant. State Senator and former Air Force officer Jim Butterworth has jumped from Captain to Major General. It is something of a controversial move. We have no idea as to MG Butterworth’s qualifications or character. But suffice it to say, it is unusual.

But the appointment of state adjutants is one of the prerogatives of a state governor. Last year, we saw a chaplain nominated in another state.  And it should be noted that while each state adjutant is a Major General in the Guard, it is not an operational command, but more concerned with administration and policy.

Having said that, since the federal government is footing the bill for most of the operations and equipment, perhaps it is time for Congress to revisit the issue of qualifications for state adjutants.

*We’re not big on bashing the National Guard anymore. Like all active duty troops, I was required by tradition to refer to them as “the Nasty Guard” and sneer at them playing soldier.

Getting our breath back

Roamy here, hoping you don’t mind some personal blogging.  On April 27th, a total of 52 tornadoes hit Alabama, including 6 EF-3, 8 EF-4 and 2 EF-5 tornadoes.  (source)  238 people died, and in places like Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Hackleburg, and Phil Campbell, the devastation is beyond words.  (One small bit of humor – when we were watching the weather report, and they announced a tornado warning for the town of Phil Campbell, my daughter asked, “They are warning one guy?”)  The main transmission lines out of the local power plant were knocked out, affecting nearly 1 million people.

The damage from the stronger tornadoes is severe enough to be  seen from orbit.

Nearly 3,000 National Guardsmen were called to active duty to respond to the disaster.  About 2,000 are still helping with cleanup and relief efforts.  I was not personally affected by the tornadoes, other than no power for a week, but I can still appreciate how the National Guard responded.  I cannot possibly thank them enough.

Also, many thanks go out to the Army side of Redstone Arsenal.  Marshall had generators running and was ready to support the launch of STS-134 two days after the tornadoes hit.  I heard they also opened up the commissary, including the gas station, to the Mission Ops employees who still had to be on duty.

With the power and water back on, things are slowly getting back to normal.  Thank you for all the prayers and good thoughts over the last couple of weeks.

Wildfire

People here in SoCal are watching the news about a wildfire that is burning homes in the LA area. October is wildfire season here. Right now, we have “Santa Ana” winds blowing. A Santa Ana is when instead of moist winds blowing in from the ocean, the pattern shifts and extremely dry winds blow in from the desert towards the shore. The winds are very strong (right now, it’s up to gusts of 65mph). The winds dry out the vegetation and spread any fire with amazing speed. Currently, this is a fairly small fire, only about 4 square miles. But there’s a good chance other fires will break out. This time last year saw the gigantic fires that burned 1500 homes in the San Diego area.

When local firefighters are overwhelmed by the fires, they ask for help. There are two resources they really need. Manpower and helicopters. Hmmmm. Where’s a good source for those? The National Guard and the Army.

U.S. Army Cpl. Robert Anderson works to extinguish remnants of a wild fire near Roanoke, Va., Feb. 12, 2008. Anderson, from the Virginia Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, is one of approximately 60 Soldiers working with the Virginia Department of Forestry in the Roanoke area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Mike Smith) (Released)
U.S. Army Cpl. Robert Anderson works to extinguish remnants of a wild fire near Roanoke, Va., Feb. 12, 2008. Anderson, from the Virginia Army National Guard

Now, the photo is from Virgina, but is the example still stands. In fact, I found photos of troops fighting fires in Virgina, New York, Florida, Washington and Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. I found a lot of photos of troops in the California fires, but I just happened to like this one above. And this one below.

NY Army National Guard UH-60 with a "Bambi Bucket" fighting wildfires
NY Army National Guard UH-60 with a

Hopefully, the current LA fires won’t spread too much. If they do, you can be sure the Army and National Guard will pitch in to help.

Bambi Bucket in action
Bambi Bucket in action

One other asset the Army/Guard team can provide that isn’t much commented on is logistics. The service can provide transportation for firefighters and move the equipment and supplies they need. It also has the communications that are needed to coordinate the huge number of assets brought to bear on any large fire.