BERLIN — The Army National Guard is considering using the vacant Berlin armory on Riverside Drive as a base of operations to support its North Country aviation missions.

Guard Director of Public Affairs Lt. Col. Gregory Heilshorn said missions could include training on drill weekends as well as search and rescue missions and wildfire suppression in support of Fish and Game.

“We would leverage the proximity of the armory to Berlin Airport — about a five-minute drive — where we could land/take-off and refuel. It has Jet A fuel, which our Blackhawks require,” he said in an email exchange.

Heilshorn noted the armory has been vacant for two years and there have been no takers for the property. So that has led the National Guard to consider the feasibility of using it for aviation training. He said currently all of the N.H. Army Guard aviation operations are based in Concord. The National Guard Blackhawks fly out of Concord to do high altitude training in the White Mountain National Forest.

“Having a forward operating location at the Berlin armory could save the state money in the long run as well as increase our efficiency and response time in support of rescue operations,” Heilshorn said.

N.H. Fish and Game Lt. James Kneeland, who heads up the agency’s specialized search and rescue team, said he believes having the N.H. National Guard doing aviation training in the White Mountains would make their response more efficient when called out on a search and rescue mission in the mountains. Having a base in Berlin, he said, would allow for quicker response and refuel times.

Kneeland said Fish and Game responds to about 200 search and rescues a year but only on about 10 of those missions do they call for the assistance of a National Guard helicopter. Kneeland said they reserve helicopter calls for lifesaving rescues or situations where rescuers are at risk.

Five years ago, the N.H. National Guard explored building a hangar at Mt. Washington Regional Airport in Whitefield to house a Blackhawk and provide a flight operations center and crew rest quarters. Officials at the time said being based at Whitefield would allow more training because it would eliminate the 30-minute flight from Concord to the North Country. Residents were concerned about noise and the impact of the flights on the nearby Pondicherry Wildlife refuge and the proposal was not pursued.

Berlin Regional Airport Manager Marcel Leveille said he thinks the airport in Milan would be a perfect fit. He said the airport has plenty of land available if the National Guard wanted to build a hangar and the sale of jet fuel would generate needed revenue. He said the Blackhawks take 200 to 300 gallons of fuel at a time at $5 a gallon. Leveille said the airport is working to become self-sustaining and the extra fuels sales would be very helpful.

The National Guard vacated the armory two years ago and offered it as surplus property to the city and other state agencies. Heilshorn noted it is in great shape and would require no renovations if the decision was made to make it a base for North Country aviation missions.

The city considered taking ownership of the armory and moving the police station there but the city council ultimately decided against the idea. The Coos County commission and Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority also looked at the property and both decided they were not interested in taking ownership of it.

Built in 1957, the armory sits on a 3.25-acre site on Route 16, across from the Androscoggin River. The main building is 20,608 square feet in size. There are two smaller buildings on the property — a 4,000-square-foot metal storage building constructed in 1988 and a 115-square-foot metal hazardous waste shed, built in 1992.

Over the past decade, changing demographics and a loss of N.H. Army Reserve National Guard force structure has forced the Guard to consolidate its facilities.

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