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Morgan sheriff returns Defense Department airplane, helicopter

By Michael Wetzel 

For the Enquirer  

A seldom-used airplane and helicopter on loan for free to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office have been returned to the federal government after Sheriff Ron Puckett’s office said the aircraft were no longer needed. 

The Morgan County Commission approved the sheriff’s request to return a Bell OH-58A helicopter and Cessna 172F airplane at its meeting Tuesday. 

Mike Swafford, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the aircraft had not been used since Puckett took office in 2018. 

“The helicopter had been used for marijuana eradication, search and rescue and surveillance,” Swafford said. “The airplane was for surveillance and used to get aerial photos of the county. We now perform these same functions utilizing drone technology. We also rely on ALEA Aviation Division, which flies out of Vinemont if needed.” 

In a letter to the commission, Capt. Kyle Wilson said the Defense Logistics Agency transferred the helicopter to the City of Cullman. 

Wilson said the airplane was transferred to the Dale County Sheriff’s Office in southeast Alabama. 

Swafford said the airplane left Pryor Field Jan. 20, and the helicopter was transferred Monday. 

Steve Crabbe was the sheriff in 1998 when the county received the helicopter through the Law Enforcement Support Office of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Defense, Swafford said. 

The commission also this week approved designating as surplus the equipment and GPS added to the helicopter by the sheriff’s office, so it could be released with the helicopter. 

“This is old technology and is installed on and in the helicopter,” Wilson wrote in the request to the commission. 

The airplane arrived in Morgan County in 2015, when then-Sheriff Ana Franklin requested it through the loan program. 

Swafford said the sheriff’s office has been paying $300 a month in hangar fees at Pryor Field for both aircraft. The insurance coverage was voided, he said. 

Swafford said he did not know the insurance and equipment costs associated with the aircraft. 

It is unclear how often the aircraft was used by sheriffs John McBride, Greg Bartlett, Crabbe and Franklin. 

“I’m sure Sheriff Franklin had a reason to get the airplane, and I personally believe Sheriff Puckett made a wise decision to get it off the books,” said District 3 Commissioner Don Stisher, who made the motion to approve Wilson’s request. “I’m sure storing it, maintaining it and insuring it got expensive.” 

Ray Long, commission chairman, said he understands why past sheriffs might have wanted and needed the aircraft. 

“I don’t know of any incidents where it was used,” Long said. “It was a free loaner program. It’s tempting to get all you can just in case you might need it.” 

He said the commission doesn’t get involved in the sheriff office’s daily operations. The sheriff’s budget is part of the county’s general fund. 

More than 8,200 law enforcement agencies in 49 states are in the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 loan program, according to the Department of Defense. According to the DLA’s website, the program’s controlled property consists of military items that are provided through a conditional transfer or loan basis where title remains with the Defense Department. This includes items such as small arms/personal weapons, demilitarized vehicles and aircraft and night vision equipment. 

When a law enforcement agency no longer wants the controlled property, it must be returned to the DLA’s Law Enforcement Support Office for proper disposition. All excess Defense Department property is shipped “as is,” and the law enforcement agency is responsible for all costs associated with acquisition, maintenance and costs to return the property when it is no longer needed. 

 

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