BISMARCK, N.D. -- More than 500 people showed up Sept. 4, to dedicate the North Dakota Army National Guard's newest helicopter, the UH-72A Lakota, at a ceremony which included a tribal blessing of the aircraft.
The ceremony took place at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., ahead of a week-long powwow scheduled for this week. The master of ceremonies was Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple led the remarks.
"The UH-72A Lakota helicopter will be a valuable asset for North Dakota and an important tool in our Guard's inventory for supporting our communities and serving our citizens," said Dalrymple. "This state-of-the-art aircraft will strengthen our capabilities when responding to emergencies and natural disasters across the state."
The Army has already fielded more than 219 Lakotas in in 43 states. The Lakota fleet logged 100,000 flight hours in May.
The Lakota is the Army's newest light utility helicopter and is replacing the UH-1H Iroquois and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters. Fielding more Lakotas will allow more UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to deploy, Army officials said. The Lakota is designed for logistics and missions in support of homeland security, emergency response and medical evacuations.
"We are pleased to partner today with all of the great nations of our state to celebrate the newest aircraft and resource available to the North Dakota Guard as we support our communities across the state in emergency operations," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general for North Dakota.
"We are pleased that the members of so many different nations have assembled to celebrate this great bird as we welcome the UH-72A Lakota helicopter to our fleet," said Sprynczynaty.
Sen. John Hoeven, Congressman Rick Berg, and David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College; and representatives of North Dakota Indian nations Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa also rendered remarks during the two-hour ceremony. The festivities also included veteran honor guards, and performances by the Youngbear/White Lodge Drum Group of Manderee, N.D., and Native American dance groups.
As part of the ceremony, two Lakota helicopters were blessed by Native American spiritual leader and elder, George Ironshield of Standing Rock, and officially named "Eagle" and "Turtle" respectively. The Eagle symbolizes spirituality and hope while the Turtle is honored as a protector and healer.
These helicopters' names reflect the life-saving and emergency response missions of the Lakota and officials said they symbolize the respect and partnership between the Native American Warriors honored by the aircraft and the Soldiers of the North Dakota National Guard that will operate them.
The North Dakota Army National Guard is expected to have four Lakota helicopters in their inventory by the end of 2013. The aircraft will be stationed at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Bismarck.