LOGAN, W.Va. — An active strip mine in Logan County has been converted into a sought-after training ground for Air National Guardsmen from near and far.
Through an unlikely partnership between the West Virginia Air National Guard and Alpha Natural Resources, Alpha’s Camp Branch surface coal mine is being repurposed into a training ground for Guardsmen in training, complete with a 3,500-foot dirt airstrip where pilots can earn their unimproved, or unpaved runway, landing certifications.
Maj. Allen Tackett, a C-130 pilot with the West Virginia Air National Guard 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston, said he tried for three months to get his unimproved landing certification at other bases, but was never able to because there are too few approved dirt airstrips and too little training time at these airstrips are sought-after by Guardsmen all over the country.
Once the Air Force approved the Camp Branch landing zone in April, he was able to get his certification within a week — and he only had to fly 10 minutes from Charleston to do it.
“I am a locally trained, war-ready pilot from this area,” Tackett said. “When you look at having to go into the places in the war, when you look at supporting the country, every place we go, just about, they have small dirt strips, gravel strips, metal matting strips, and this certification now allows me to go over there and do these things.”
County officials and area employers toured the landing strip recently as part of a “boss” tour, sponsored by West Virginia’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The group hosts these tours around the state to improve relations between employers and service member employees by showing employers what their military employees do outside of their civilian lives.
Gen. David Buckalew, director of joint staff for the West Virginia National Guard, said the plans for obtaining a dirt airstrip for training were spawned after the Charleston-based 130th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard came up on the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s list of proposed base closures in 2005. The 130th Airlift Wing was eventually removed from the list, but Buckalew said the report outlined what needed to be done for the base’s future to remain viable…