"Critical to the national security of the United States and the readiness of the Armed Forces" — that's what the newly-signed National Defense Authorization Act has to say about Colorado's High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site
The one-of-a-kind military school is located at the Eagle County airport in Gypsum.
The declaration, buried deep in the massive bill Congress passed just before the winter holiday, is meant to ensure the school stays open and located in Colorado for the long term.
HAATS is the military's only facility that teaches helicopter pilots the fine art of operating thousands of feet above sea level. In addition to training members of every branch of the military, its students also include pilots from allied countries.
HAATS also partners with local rescue crews to help with search and evacuation efforts, flying around two dozen missions just in 2019.
"As more skiers, hikers and rock climbers visit Colorado, there are more instances where outdoor enthusiasts may need to be rescued and evacuated. And because of the work done at HAATS, evacuations can happen in some of the most unforgiving terrain on Earth," Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse noted while praising the training center on the House floor in July.
Republican Western Slope Rep. Scott Tipton authored the amendment, which reads in full:
SEC. 599C. SENSE OF CONGRESS REGARDING THE HIGH-ALTITUDE ARMY NATIONAL GUARD AVIATION TRAINING SITE.
(a) Finding.—Congress finds that the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site is the lone school of the Department of Defense where rotary-wing aviators in the Armed Forces and the militaries of foreign allies learn how to safely fly rotary-wing aircraft in mountainous, high-altitude environments.
(b) Sense Of Congress.—It is the sense of Congress that military aviation training in Colorado, including the training conducted at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, is critical to the national security of the United States and the readiness of the Armed Forces.
Speaking to the amendment on the House floor in June, Tipton praised the training at HAATS as "lifesaving" and told the story of a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who found his engines damaged by airborne talcum powder while flying an emergency rescue mission.
"Through his training... garnered at HAATS, he was able to safely land the aircraft and successfully removed wounded soldiers and medics out of the area which was extremely hazardous," Tipton said.
The congressman's amendment was also supported by other members of Colorado's Congressional delegation.