Lakota Helicopters Blessed for Take-off - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Lakota Helicopters Blessed for Take-off

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By Steve White swhite@nebraska.tv

Tradition meets the future as a member of the Oglala Sioux blesses the helicopter bearing the same name as his people -- the Lakota.

Myron Long Solider was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He said it's fitting to name the newest members of the National Guard fleet after these warriors of the great plains.

"Recognizing the tribes for their bravery," he said.

Long Soldier blessed the choppers as they fly to the east and west, north and south, as they surely will do.

Major Gen. Judd Lyon, Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard said, "These helicopters are configured for medical evacuation and can be used for search and rescue operations. They can also be used to assess damage in the event of a natural disaster."

Four helicopters are landing in Grand Island, with a total price tag of around $25 million.

Mayor Jay Vavricek said, "This is a great investment in emergency response and preparedness and we're honored in Grand Island to be part of it."

It accompanies creation of a new unit, Delta Company. Lyon said it provides medevac capabilities in central and western Nebraska that were previously only available from a Lincoln-based unit. Plus it's an upgrade for pilots like Keal Bockelman who had been flying Vietnam-era choppers.

Bockelman, a chief warrant officer said, "I like to put it this is 1970's Corvette to what seems to us a Lamborghini."

"They're state of the art, directly from the factory," Lyon said. "To make the leap from the OH-58, a good aircraft but outlived its usefulness to us to state of the art, I think is says a lot about our investment in the aviation community."

The cockpit features numerous displays, with GPS and modern software pilots are excited to learn. 

"It's been a number of years since it's been in the making, these were going to arrive. We're finally happy to get them in the hangar," Bockelman said following a ceremony at the guard base in Grand Island.

These will not fly in combat. Lyon said they are for use only in "permissive environments."

The Chinooks based in Grand Island are currently in Afghanistan. The National Guard said that unit will return home next spring.

These new Lakota helicopters would likely be used in natural disasters at home. They can carry patients and also have a 600 pound lift built in.

The National Guard is also planning to get four more, to be used in homeland security efforts.

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