Saturday, July 22, 2017

National Guard plans to get new helicopter hub near Las Cruces

LAS CRUCES - A helicopter unit with the Army National Guard is slated to get a new hub west of Las Cruces.

The proposed 35,000-square-foot, $14.5 million "readiness center" will serve the National Guard's C Company, 3rd Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, which operates and houses four UH-72 Lakota helicopters at the Las Cruces International Airport.

"This facility is critical to the successful training and readiness of the unit," said Erin Montoya, planning/programming branch chief for the New Mexico National Guard. "It's going to be a brand-new facility for those aviators."

Now, the unit leases hangar space at the airport, but it's not enough space to meet the needs, Montoya said. The helicopters are used to support the state during critical emergencies, as well as to assist state and federal law enforcement.

The office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., recently announced that he helped secure $8.6 million in a recent bill that will help pay for the new building, among a list of other military projects in New Mexico. The bill has advanced to the full Senate.

"As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which funds construction projects at our bases, I fought to secure strong infrastructure funding to support the critical national security missions carried out at New Mexico's bases, to improve the quality of life for our men and women in uniform, and to strengthen our state's economy," Udall said in a news release.

In addition to the existing hangar space, there's a second National Guard  readiness center — a term that replaces what once were called "armories" — near the airport. It serves other units, but not aviation.

"There will be no changes to the existing readiness center as part of this project," Montoya said. "The current readiness center was built in 1990 and has a little over 45,000 square feet (of space)."

The new building, slated to be built on National Guard land that's near the airport, would give aviators a dedicated readiness center. It's expected to include additional hangar space, as well as room for other functions, such as training.

Even after the new center is built, Montoya said the unit will still require space. It's likely the National Guard will continue renting the existing hangar.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the recent award was "great news."

"The National Guard has a long and storied history here in Las Cruces and New Mexico as a whole," he said. "This facility will help augment the great work and aerial training the National Guard does for our state and community — not to mention the economic impact this will have to our community and state."

Montoya said construction on the new building is set to begin in February 2018 and finish in October 2019. It's likely the National Guard will continue to lease the existing hangar space even after the new readiness center is built because of the need for space, she said.

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