The New Jersey National Guard formally began construction Friday for a new helicopter support base near Lakehurst, a $49-million project that will allow the 1-150th Aviation Battalion to finally move out of obsolete quarters at a Mercer County airport and consolidate operations at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The Army Aviation Support Facility will be a 103,602-square-foot complex on the Lakehurst side of the base, where the 1-150th has been operating for some years out of old Navy airship hangars. The planned facility will have five helicopter hangar bays, two unheated storage hangar bays, repair and tool rooms, and administrative offices and briefing rooms.
The battalion and its Blackhawk helicopters have flown in Iraq, Kosovo and Panama, and last fall over New Jersey when the 1-150th flew daily support missions for the superstorm Sandy relief operations. Those first images of the devastated oceanfront and the new inlet cut through Mantoloking came from Blackhawks flying in still high winds on Oct. 30, the day after the storm.
Reps. Chris Smith and Jon Runyan, both R-NJ, whose Congressional districts include the base, said the Friday groundbreaking represents a boost to National Guard capabilities and the future fortunes of the 40,000-acre military reservation that survived several Base Realignment and Closure processes during the military’s post-Cold War restructuring.
“Eighteen years ago, Lakehurst was on life support, a near casualty of the 1995 BRAC,” Smith wrote in a statement congratulating the New Jersey Guard. “Not only did we save Lakehurst from the axe in 1995, but in that same year the idea for an Army Aviation Support Facility was hatched.”
Those National Guard aviators saw the under-utilized runways and hangars of Lakehurst as an opportunity, in a way anticipating the Joint Base concept that in recent years has consolidated units from all the armed services to the merged bases. Other Guard and Reserve groups have been relocated there as other bases, such as the Navy Reserve air station at Willow Grove, Pa., were wound down and finally closed by the BRAC process.
New Jersey political leaders and civilian base supporters said every additional mission that comes to the base increases its efficiency — and odds for future survival. Department of Defense planners are calling for another round of military base consolidations and closings in coming years to free up money for other programs.