Guest Columnist

'Support the Troops' by giving them the tools they need

Felix Turcios, staff engineer in the advanced concepts group, gives a demonstration in the concept flight deck at Collin
Felix Turcios, staff engineer in the advanced concepts group, gives a demonstration in the concept flight deck at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The large screen is a representation of a low-visibility flight, aided by three-dimensional topography and enhanced vision. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Most people agree that we all need to “support the troops.” Sometimes that phrase is used to raise money for a veteran-focused organization or collect items for care packages that get sent to deployed service members. Other times it’s echoed by major organizations to raise awareness for issues impacting our service members, such as mental health or veteran employment.

Raising money and awareness are worthwhile and very important ways to support our servicemen and women. There’s also the kind of support that isn’t often talked about but just as important. That is, ensuring that our service members have the equipment they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Right here in Iowa, at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, we produce some of the most advanced, battle-ready equipment on the planet. That includes the next generation CH-47 Chinook Block II helicopter. The Chinook is battle-tested and has proved itself as the top, most-versatile military helicopter.

Over its 55 years in service, the Chinook has been integral in missions spanning from cargo and troop transport to search and rescue; from firefighting to humanitarian and disaster relief. It’s also the go-to military helicopter for special operations, assault operations, and casualty evacuation. The new Chinook Block II offers even more value. It has an increased heavy-lift capacity of 1,500 pounds, can fly farther, and is effective even in extreme heat. None of its competitors can match the Chinook Block II’s capabilities.

At Collins Aerospace, more than 1,000 Iowans engineer and build the Chinook Block II’s cockpit and avionics. Specifically, the Chinook’s Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS). Despite the incredible capabilities of the Chinook Block II, the Army is considering delaying the program for five years, even though it already has funding set aside to pay for 50 new Chinooks. That decision would cost taxpayers more than $3 billion. The impact would be acutely felt here in Iowa.

Collins Aerospace is a major employer and economic driver in the Cedar Rapids region and generates approximately $65 million into the state’s economy. The Chinook Block II is one of its major contracts. If the Army moves forward with a delay, all those jobs and all the economic benefit of the Chinook program to Iowa’s economy are at risk. Likewise, so is the safety, efficiency, and capabilities of our service members.

The ability of our warfighters to achieve mission success largely depends on the tools they’re given. They deserve to have the best, most-capable equipment.

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Especially now as our nation faces new, emerging threats from adversarial nations, charities, businesses, and organizations will repeat the urgent need to “support our troops.” We can do that by raising our voices in support of the Chinook Block II program. What better way to support the troops than by giving them the equipment they need to stay safe and do the work of protecting our state, our country, and the world?

Mike Ralston is president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

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