Martha Roby: Renewed focus on pilot training good for Fort Rucker

Helicopter training
Students from the 23rd Flying Training Squadron at Fort Rucker, Ala., piloting UH-1H Iroquois helicopters, [Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force | Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings]

 The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee held a budget hearing Thursday where I discussed issues impacting Alabama’s 2nd District with our nation’s top two military officials.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified about the President’s budget proposal and answered questions from the Subcommittee about military funding and global strategy. Representing a district that is home to the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, I took the opportunity to ask about the future of Army Aviation as well as the military’s ability to respond to multiple global threats simultaneously.

As I told Secretary Mattis, there aren’t many places the military goes without Army aviators. However, I’m increasingly concerned that our assets and resources are being stretched too thin. Specifically, there is a significant shortage of Apache helicopters, programs like the Light Utility Helicopter look to be underfunded, and we aren’t training enough pilots.

Secretary Mattis agreed there is a serious pilot shortage and called it a “national-level problem” that needs to be addressed.

“Since near the end of World War II, we have dominated the skies overhead, almost to the point that we could start taking it for granted, which would be a disaster if we did that. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice over many years,” Secretary Mattis said.

“…we are not creating enough pilots in this environment right now to serve the commercial or service interests. We are going to have to deal with this as a national level problem, and we’ve responded to this sort of thing in the past. We’ve had to dust off a lot of the old thinking and find some new ideas in there. But we are working it right now. We just had the meeting with industry here last month with General Goldfein, our Chief of Staff of the Air Force leading it, but all the Chiefs of Services are engaged.”

This is good news for Fort Rucker, the Wiregrass, and the State of Alabama. Because all Army and Air Force rotary wing aviators are trained at Fort Rucker, a renewed focus from the Pentagon on developing more helicopter pilots would potentially benefit the post’s mission. Secretary Mattis also assured me that the new military budget allocates over more than $3 billion for Army Aviation, including the Blackhawks, Apaches, Chinooks, and Lakotas that are part of the training apparatus at Fort Rucker.

I appreciate Secretary Mattis’ thoughtful response, and I’m grateful for our nation’s top military official’s commitment to preserving the United States’ air superiority. As the budget process moves forward I am eager to ensure national priorities like Army Aviation are properly funded.

I’m honored to serve on Defense Appropriations because it allows me to have a seat at the table for budget and policy discussions like this that will impact the future of the military, including installations in Alabama. I look forward to following up with Secretary Mattis and other military officials about the critical role Fort Rucker plays in our national defense.


Martha Roby OfficialMartha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.