Story and photos provided by Maj. Shawn Keller, Kentucky National Guard State Partnership Director
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Geography doesn’t often make the list of favorite subjects in school, but most people in the United States are familiar with Costa Rica. About the size of West Virginia, this small Central American country has a big reputation as the world leader in eco-tourism; and as a major exporter of produce and coffee to the U.S., it’s hard to walk down the produce aisle or into your local Starbucks without noticing bananas, pineapples or java bearing the “Costa Rica” label. But in early September, six members of the Kentucky National Guard had a unique opportunity to experience a side of Costa Rica that most tourists never see—by living with a Costa Rican family.
The Kentucky soldiers and airmen were in Costa Rica from 2-15 September participating in a Spanish language and cultural immersion program sponsored by the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Kentucky has partnered with the Republic of Ecuador since 1996, and the Kentucky-Ecuador connection was one of the first State Partnerships in US Southern Command. The Kentucky National Guard has a number of soldiers and airmen that are fluent in Spanish, but finding individuals with expertise in the nuances of Latin American culture and customs is a more difficult challenge. Training events like this year’s immersion program are an important tool in building and maintaining the enduring relationships that are a hallmark of the SPP.
Participants for the event were carefully selected from career fields that support the top three military priorities of the Ecuador partnership—aviation operations and maintenance, search and rescue operations and wheeled vehicle maintenance. The group attended daily classes at the Costa Rica Spanish Institute (COSI) in the capital city of San Jose. An average day consisted of a four hour group class with an additional hour of one-on-one instruction each afternoon. The Kentucky group’s level of Spanish varied considerably, ranging from individuals that were raised in bi-lingual homes to others who had little or no exposure to Spanish before the trip. Although everyone was placed in classes appropriate for their level, even those considered fluent by most standards found the course to be a real challenge.
“COSI is the most intense language training I’ve experienced,” said Staff Sgt. Elmer Quijada, a pararescueman with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. “As a native Spanish speaker, I was surprised how much I learned about the language. Also, the people and culture of Costa Rica were wonderful, and the overall experience was first class.”
Afternoons provided time to decompress from the rigors of conjugating Spanish verbs while experiencing the local sights and sounds of San Jose and spending time with host families. Each member of the Kentucky team was placed with a Costa Rican family and lived with them for the duration of the trip. They shared daily meals, activities and conversations with their families, which for those individuals new to Spanish often proved to be the day’s biggest challenge.
“I had no Spanish background whatsoever,” said Chief Warrant Officer Two John Radford, a UH-60 pilot with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s Bravo Co. 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment. “I expected a family that spoke some English, but that wasn’t the case at all. As soon as I arrived, I was given the grand tour of the ‘casa’ (house) in Spanish, at which time I realized I was in serious trouble.”
Radford cites some confusion regarding the operation of the shower head, which was provided to him by his host entirely in Spanish.
“This naturally resulted in three days of ice cold showers and me learning the word “fria” (cold),” he said. “But in the end, having to learn the language quickly in order to communicate proved to be beneficial and really made the lessons stick.”
In addition to providing formal language courses, COSI sponsored several excursions for the group including visits to San Jose’s famous Mercado Central, the old capitol city of Cartago and it’s 19th century Cathedral and the active volcano Irazu that is located about an hour away from San Jose. The team also took part in a weekend trip to Puerto Viejo, a small town located on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. The drive to Puerto Viejo provided a unique opportunity to experience the highly variable geography of Costa Rica on roads that meandered through volcanic peaks, cloud forests and coastal jungles.
Although Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America, the group had a few unexpected adventures. A magnitude 7.9 earthquake, centered approximately 80 kilometers northwest of COSI’s San Jose campus, struck Costa Rica’s Pacific coast region on September 5th. Fortunately those living close to the epicenter suffered few injuries and surprisingly little damage. Still, it was quite an experience for the Kentucky group, and the first earthquake several of them had experienced.
“We were in the middle of class, and the walls just started rocking back and forth,” said Staff Sgt. Pedro Soto, a vehicle mechanic with the KYNG-J4. “ It took a few seconds for me to realize that we were actually having an earthquake. It’s just not something I’ve ever experienced in Kentucky.”
In another incident, a member of the group woke up in Puerto Viejo eye-to-eye with a 4-inch jungle scorpion, with which he had apparently been sharing the same bed. But other than a few shattered nerves, everyone had a memorable experience and returned safely home with a better knowledge of Spanish and a fond appreciation for the rich culture and beautiful landscapes of Costa Rica.
“Living with a family in Costa Rica and attending classes at COSI was an invaluable experience,” said Capt. Jennifer Nash, a C-130 pilot with the 165th Airlift Squadron. “Best of all, I got to know other members of the Kentucky National Guard and share this experience with them.”
Story by Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Afghan countryside is an unforgiving place for American troops, with the kinds of unknown threats and hidden dangers that can turn a routine patrol into a bloody fight for survival.
Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hunt, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, was reminded of that fact once again on March 31 while conducting a reconnaissance patrol in Eastern Afghanistan as part of a U.S. Army Special Forces Team.
Hunt was serving as the gunner in the first of four all-terrain vehicles as his patrol entered a remote village rarely visited by coalition forces. In the blink of an eye, the patrol came under attack when an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Hunt’s ATV.
The ordnance threaded a narrow gap between Hunt and his driver, passing Hunt’s head so closely that the fins of the RPG cut his face as it flew by. The grenade then struck the ATV’s roll cage, inches from Hunt’s head, and detonated on his rucksack. Both men suffered concussions from the blast, and Hunt received lacerations to his face and a fractured nose.
Despite his injuries, Hunt instinctively returned fire with his vehicle-mounted machine gun. He then transitioned to an assault rifle and a 40mm grenade launcher to break up the ambush. This allowed the special forces team leader to take cover behind a mud wall and return fire, buying time for the rest of the team to repel the enemy.
For his performance under fire and for sustaining injuries during combat, Hunt was awarded the Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal June 28, during a ceremony held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville. Seven other members of Hunt’s unit also were recognized for exceptional service during recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, earning nine decorations ranging from the Bronze Star Medal to the Air Force Commendation Medal.
“Days like today remind us of the truth that humans are more important than hardware, and that the operators we send out to tackle America’s security challenges are among America’s finest,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, who traveled to Louisville to personally bestow the awards.
“Battlefield Airmen live on forward operating bases and in austere corners of the world, where ground special operations forces demand precision integration with combat air power,” Fiel continued, speaking to an audience of more than 300 friends, family and coworkers. “You never fail to rise to the occasion, because you know better than anyone that the success of the mission — and often the lives of our brothers — depends on you.
“You are the authorities on airpower in the joint Special Operations Forces battle space, and the nature of your service is unique. It demands a formidable warrior who can calmly employ decisive skills one moment and unleash hell in the next.
We will continue to defend this nation and bring harm to our enemies no matter where they hide, and I know the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron will continue to call in the airpower we need in that fight.”
The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron is the only special operations unit in the Air National Guard with both combat controllers and pararescue personnel. Mission sets include clandestine deployment by land, sea and air to establish and control austere airfield and assault-zone operations, according to Lt. Col. Jeff Wilkinson, squadron commander. Members also conduct environmental reconnaissance and tactical weather forecasting; battlefield trauma care; and personnel and equipment recovery operations, including casualty evacuation and combat search and rescue.
Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, praised all eight Airmen for their unsurpassed dedication to duty, telling the audience that they routinely “put their lives on the line under the most extreme hardships and save untold lives in the process.”
“I am so proud to be here, among all of you,” he said, “but it is a special honor to be here with these men, these quiet professionals who truly embody the spirit of unbridled service.”
The seven other STS members who received awards were:
• Master Sgt. Robert Fernandez, a combat controller, earned a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Nov. 16, 2011 to May 1, 2012. During this period, Fernandez led a 21-person team to manage operations, logistics, resupply and intelligence for 61 combat controllers, tactical air control party members and special operations weathermen conducting combat operations at 46 different locations. He also oversaw the coordination of 5,046 close-air support aircraft and 1,908 combat missions resulting in the kill or capture of 510 enemy combatants.
• Master Sgt. Aaron May, a combat controller, earned a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Nov. 16, 2011 to May 1, 2012. During this period, May oversaw 61 Air Force special tactics operators attached to Army, Navy and Marine Corps special operations teams throughout Afghanistan. He also supervised the coordination of 1,980 combat missions resulting in the employment of 70,000 pounds of air-to-ground ordnance and 188 enemy killed.
• Tech. Sgt. Harley Bobay, a combat controller, earned a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Nov. 16, 2011 to May 1, 2012. Bobay also received an Air Force Combat Action Medal. During his deployment, Bobay and a team of special operators conducted 32 combat reconnaissance patrols and 22 tactical ground movements while engaging with hostile forces. On one occasion, Bobay was pinned down by a barrage of heavy machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Exposing himself to incoming fire, he rapidly acquired the target and directed 30mm canon fire from an overhead AC-130 gunship, killing six insurgents. On eight other occasions, Bobay directed air-to-ground containment fires to protect arriving resupply convoys from enemy attack.
• Tech. Sgt. Jeff Kinlaw, a combat controller, earned a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Nov. 16, 2011 to May 1, 2012. Kinlaw also received an Air Force Combat Action Medal. During this period, Kinlaw was the sole Airman serving as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller assigned to two Army Special Forces Teams conducting village stability operations. He later was partnered with a 100-man Afghan commando unit conducting battlefield operations. His coordination of multiple air-to-ground strikes from eight A-10s and six AH-64s resulted in five enemy killed in action and four forfeited fighting positions destroyed.
• Maj. Sean McLane, a special tactics officer, earned a Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Aug. 17, 2011 to Dec. 1, 2011. During this period, McLane led an 85-person special tactics squadron conducting daily combat operations across Afghanistan. Noting that air support tactics had grown stale in the theater, he initiated a real-time, lessons-learned and best-practices evaluation process which ensured no rules-of-engagement violations, no civilian casualties and no friendly-fire incidents. His leadership enabled the execution of 2,291 ground operations controlling 400 air strikes that resulted in 1,058 enemy fighters killed and 172 wounded.
• Master Sgt. Michael Newman, a combat controller, earned an Air Force Commendation Medal for outstanding achievement while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn from Aug. 18, 2010 to Nov. 18, 2010. During this period, Newman served for two months as a Joint Attack Controller for an Army Special Forces Team in Iraq, conducting 14 missions in conjunction with Iraqi Security Forces. He was then assigned to the Special Tactics Assault Zone Reconnaissance Team in Afghanistan, where he provided air traffic control for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as control of re-supply airdrops.
• Senior Airman John Kane, a combat controller, earned an Air Force Commendation Medal for outstanding achievement while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Aug. 18, 2010 to Nov. 18, 2010. During this period, Kane conducted 50 combat patrols through enemy terrain laden with improvised explosive devices. He also controlled 120 close-air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms that provided ground commanders with real-time battlefield data. On four separate missions, Kane and his team were attacked by insurgent forces, and each time Kane responded by directing airpower to neutralize the situation. As his team’s air-to-ground expert, he flawlessly controlled the airdrop of three tons of mission-essential supplies and equipment to troops on the ground.
Bronze Star Medals are earned for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy. Meritorious Service Medals and Air Force Commendation Medals recognize outstanding achievement or service. Combat Action Medals are awarded to Airmen for active participation in combat, having been under direct and hostile fire or physically engaging hostile forces with direct and lethal fire.
The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron remains one of the most heavily deployed units in the Air National Guard, from hurricane-recovery efforts in the United States to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wilkinson said.
In the past three years alone, the unit’s Airmen were deployed overseas for more than 4,600 days, conducting over 950 ground-combat missions and 10,000 hours of Combat Search and Rescue operations credited with saving more than 50 personnel, he said.
The unit’s combat controllers were among the first U.S. forces on the ground following a devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, directing the first C-17 airdrops of humanitarian aid and controlling a massive resupply effort that delivered 20,000 pounds of food, water and medicine.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, members of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron established and operated a helicopter landing zone on a highway overpass in New Orleans, helping evacuate nearly 12,000 citizens.
The unit is comprised primarily of combat controllers, pararescuemen and special operations weathermen.
Combat controllers are some of the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military, Wilkinson said. As FAA-certified air traffic controllers, they deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.
Pararescuemen are parachute-jump qualified trauma specialists who must maintain Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic credentials throughout their careers. With this medical and rescue expertise, PJs are able to perform life-saving missions in the world’s most remote areas, Wilkinson said. A PJ’s primary function is personnel recovery specialist, with emergency medical capabilities in humanitarian and combat environments. PJs deploy in any available manner, to include air-land-sea tactics, into restricted environments to authenticate, extract, treat, stabilize and evacuate injured personnel.
Special operations weathermen are meteorologists with advanced tactical training to operate in hostile or denied territory, Wilkinson said. They gather and interpret weather data and provide intelligence from deployed locations while working primarily with Air Force and Army Special Operations Forces.
The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron’s parent organization is the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing, the main operational unit of the Kentucky Air National Guard. When under federal control, the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron reports to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, which is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Photos by 1st Lt. Mark Slaughter and Sr. Airman Maxwell Rechel, Kentucky National Guard
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A dozen members of Kentucky’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron returned from their six month mission to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Monday.
Special Tactics Squadron team members are elite USAF special operations Airmen who operate on the ground, often alongside other Special Operation Forces such as Rangers, Special Forces and Navy SEALs. These teams may call in air strikes, marshal special ops aircraft, recover downed operators or collect mission critical weather data.
“My primary job was to provide air-to-ground support as a liaison for special operations Troops there on the ground,” said Tech. Sgt. Harley Bobay, 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. “We train constantly to do our missions. We’ll start training again in about a month.”
STS personnel are part of the Air Force Special Forces Command and have played a role in the majority of US special operations in recent times.
Headquarters and special tactics units also recognized
Story by Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Kentucky National Guard
Photos by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora and Senior Airman Maxwell Rechel, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Kentucky National Guard
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One of President Barack Obama’s top advisors praised the Kentucky Air National Guard for superior achievement March 18, calling the organization “second to none” during a ceremony honoring the 123rd Airlift Wing for winning a nearly unprecedented 15th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
Also recognized were Kentucky Air National Guard Headquarters, which accepted its 9th Air Force Organizational Excellence Award; and the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, which received an Air Force Meritorious Unit Award from Air Force Special Operations Command.
“It is indeed a pleasure for me to be here and recognize the great accomplishments of the more than 1,200 Citizen-Airmen in the Kentucky Air National Guard,” said Richard Reed, special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for resilience policy. “The missions you perform are critically important to ensuring our nation’s security, defense and disaster response, both at home and abroad.”
The 123rd Airlift Wing’s 15th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award is especially noteworthy, Reed told an audience of more than 1,000 Airmen who packed a hangar at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base. Research indicates that only three other units have ever earned 15 AFOUAs.
“This level of achievement is a testament to the 123rdAirlift Wing’s rich legacy of service and excellence, dating back to your founding in 1947,” he said. “With six Distinguished Flying Unit Plaques, three Metcalf Trophies, three 15th Air Force Solano Trophies and three Spaatz Trophies, the 123rd Airlift Wing is among the most — if not the most — decorated units in the United States Air Force.
“That heritage of excellence continues today. Your recent accomplishments show a dedication to mission performance that is really unsurpassed. Whether supporting the war overseas or defense of the homeland in the United States, you are always there.”
During the award period, which ran from October 2009 to September 2011, the wing deployed 741 personnel to 32 locations in 21 countries. Many were in direct combat or combat-support missions, including 150 Airmen who deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, with five of the unit’s C-130 aircraft to fly airlift missions in support of Operation Enduing Freedom. Those Airmen logged an unprecedented 100 percent mission-capable rate while flying 3,600 sorties that transported 41,000 passengers and moved 13,500 tons of cargo, including 3.5 million pounds of airdropped materiel. They also broke multiple monthly records for overall combat airdrops and amount of cargo moved in theater.
Members of the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron deployed to Bagram, too, completing more than $300 million in base construction projects in six months, including a fully functional Air Mobility Command passenger terminal and the first permanent C-130 maintenance hangar.
In a novel concept, the wing deployed 17 Airmen to Afghanistan for Agribusiness Development Teams 1 and 2, fostering the creation of a sustainable agriculture economy and boosting income for 1,400 Afghan raisin vineyards by 50 percent in less than 6 months. One of the wing’s officers was later selected as commander of ADT 3 — the first time an Air Guardsman has led an agribusiness development team. That group of 60 Army and Air National Guardsmen coordinated Afghanistan’s first-ever commercial mulberry harvest in the Panshir Valley, producing 75 metric tons of mulberries and netting about $45,000 for local farmers.
Over in Kyrgyzstan, the wing deployed 28 Security Forces to Manas Air Base, protecting 4,000 personnel and over $2 billion in assets during the massive build-up of forces needed to support a troop surge in U.S. Central Command.
When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, the wing’s 123rd Contingency Response Group was hand-picked to open an airlift hub in the Dominican Republic, enabling the evacuation of 210 personnel and delivering 725 short tons of life-saving aid. The CRG Commander also coordinated the airflow into Haiti and later deployed to run air operations for tsunami and earthquake relief in Japan.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch elements of this unit in action in the Dominican Republic, and I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of time dealing with the aftermath of events in Japan,” said Reed, who leads the development of disaster-response policy at the White House. “I can tell you: At the end of the day, your work speaks for itself. In most cases, that’s either a really good thing or a really bad thing. In your case, it’s a damn good thing.”
Reed noted that the 123rd Airlift Wing has a long history of disaster response and humanitarian relief, including missions in response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav.
“Your militia heritage really gives you a special passion to support the citizens of the United States,” he said. “And you are true innovators in homeland security and defense, as exemplified by The 123rd Airlift Wing Initial Response Hub, which stands alone in the capability it will provide during response to a major disaster.”
Now operational, the Initial Response Hub is a small group of Kentucky Air Guardsmen with the training, equipment and C-130 aircraft to deploy within hours to the site of a natural disaster or enemy attack, set up command and control of a non-functioning airfield, provide first-feed situational awareness to the national command authority and begin accepting incoming aircraft for humanitarian assistance or medical evacuation. No other unit in the U.S. military has all of these capabilities housed in one unit, with the C-130 aircraft to permit immediate response.
“In short, you bring the capability our nation will need during a crisis, and you will be there within a few hours of the call,” Reed said. “It’s a capability that will serve this nation well, and it’s a capability we need to provide for the safety and welfare of Americans here, as well as citizens across the globe.”
Reed said the Initial Response Hub’s first-feed situational-awareness capability is especially valuable, given that reliable information is often hard to come by in the early hours following a natural disaster.
“I spend a lot of time deconflicting information from a variety of sources to try to prepare senior leadership — in particular the president — for understanding what’s going on, on the ground,” he said. “That’s not an easy task to do. So this capability will really help me paint the picture for the boss in such a way that he can make decisions from a very, very well-informed position.”
Reed noted that the Initial Response Hub is more than just an idea on paper. It was validated in 2010 when the wing earned an “Excellent” rating during the Air Mobility Command’s first-ever homeland-defense Operational Readiness Inspection. It also was mobilized during the last three National Level Exercises — large-scale disaster-response scenarios involving a full spectrum of government agencies.
Last year, for example, the wing stood up an Initial Response Hub for medical evacuation in Missouri, directing 17 aircraft, 80 tons of cargo and 104 passengers while interoperating with U.S. Transportation Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and numerous other federal, state and local civilian organizations.
“The president’s guidance is pretty simple: We need to have an aggressive, well-coordinated and comprehensive response,” Reed said. “Your understanding of your mission in support of domestic operations is key. (Your wing commander) tells me the 123rd Airlift Wing is not the kind of unit that waits to be called when need arises. You pick up the phone and say, ‘You need us, and we’re on the way.’ I call that leaning forward, and I appreciate that. When America needs help, you’ve constantly demonstrated that you are ready and you will be there.”
The day’s other two awards recognized exceptional achievements by the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and Headquarters, Kentucky Air National Guard.
The special tactics squadron earned a Meritorious Unit Award as part of the 720th Special Operations Group during an evaluation period that ran from October 2009 to September 2011. During that time, the Kentucky unit deployed more than third of its personnel in 29 combat and combat-support roles in Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. The unit’s combat controllers and pararescuemen conducted more than 450 ground combat missions and 10,000 hours of Combat Search and Rescue, saving 54 personnel.
The squadron’s Airmen also were among the first U.S. troops on the ground following the Haiti earthquake, establishing air operations at Port-au-Prince and controlling the first C-17 disaster-relief airdrop.
“I was there when that happened,” Reed recalled, “and I can tell you, if it had not been for the efforts of that particular mission, that disaster-recovery operation could have gone south really, really quickly.”
Headquarters earned its 9th Air Force Organizational Excellence Award in part by aggressively seeking new missions for the Kentucky Air National Guard. During its award period, which also ran from October 2009 to September 2011, the unit launched successful campaigns to bring two new missions to Kentucky — a Fatality Search and Recovery Team; and a Chemical, Biological, Radiologicial, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.
Reed noted that such accomplishments were remarkable, given the current climate of constrained resources and budget cuts that “don’t necessarily support any new missions, and yet you find a way to bring two to Kentucky.”
Headquarters Airmen also reached out to U.S. allies abroad, coordinating underwater search-and-rescue training for members of the Ecuador military and hosting foreign officers from 12 nations as part of comprehensive international education efforts.
“Congratulations again on your great accomplishments,” Reed said. “I can think of no honor more fitting than one which simply says, ‘Outstanding.’ ”
Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, echoed Reed’s praise, calling March 18 an “historic day.”
“It’s not every day we’re fortunate to receive such distinguished awards, and certainly not three of them at one time,” Tonini said. “If you’re not from Kentucky, it might seem amazing — maybe even impossible — for a single unit, in this case the 123rd Airlift Wing, to receive not one, not two, but 15 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. Or that the headquarters unit could merit nine Air Force Organizational Excellence Awards. Some people might even be surprised to note that the best special tactics squadron in the nation resides right here in the Kentucky National Guard.
“But having spent 43 years in the Kentucky National Guard, I’m not surprised by any bit of this. I’ve seen for myself the professionalism and pride of our Airmen, both here at home and overseas. When these C-130s touch down in any of the seven continents, they bring with them the pride of Kentucky and a legacy that I believe is second to none. Our men and women exhibit their unbridled service in everything they do for the Commonwealth and their country, from Bagram to Kyrgyzstan, from Quito to Haiti, and most recently even Antarctica. Outstanding in every way.”
Kentucky’s assistant adjutant general for Air, Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, encouraged the men and women of the Kentucky Air National Guard to take pride in their accomplishments and the heritage of those who came before them.
“You should be rightly proud, not only of your recognition as top achievers but also of the heritage of this organization — an organization that from its very beginning valued excellence and built upon that foundation block by block,” he said. “Let me encourage you to continue to mark a path of excellence, both professionally and personally. It will equip you for the tasks and challenges that lie ahead and serve to inspire a future generation of Kentucky Air National Guardsmen who will follow your lead.
“Thank you again for your exemplary service, your sacrifice and the difference you make every day toward mission accomplishment. Folks, I simply could not be more proud to serve along side you.”
Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, thanked his Airmen for their continued legacy of excellence in defense of America.
“What a great day to be in the Kentucky Air National Guard, and what an outstanding day to be a member of the 123rd Airlift Wing,” he said. “To the men and women of the 123rd Airlift Wing: Thank You. This is your award. This is your day to celebrate.
“Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Carpenter and I can’t thank you enough for the great things you did during this time period of October 2009 to September 2011. We also can’t thank you enough for every day you’ve been in the fight since the attack of 11 September 2001.
“Thanks to the retirees who established our heritage, and thanks to every single one of you for the oath you took, swearing your allegiance to support the constitution and your promise to fight for our freedom every single day. The 123rd Airlift Wing is the best tactical airlift wing in the United States Air Force. Thank for standing ready, thank you for flying safe and fighting hard.”
Story by Senior Airman Maxwell Rechel, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron rappelled down the side of University of Louisville Cardinal Stadium Nov. 12 in a public demonstration of their tactical capabilities.
The demonstration, held just prior to kickoff for the Cardinal’s football match-up with Pittsburgh, helped raise public awareness of the pararescue mission, which centers on the recovery of downed personnel any time, under any conditions, anywhere around the world, according to Staff Sgt. David Covell.
It was one of several events offered by military units in the area Nov. 12 as part of the university’s annual Military Appreciation Day.
“This was a great opportunity for the squadron to show the public some of our capabilities,” said Covell, a pararescueman assigned to the 123rd. “Being a college student at U of L, I’m really happy to be able to support both my school and my unit.”
The squadron also set up static displays of equipment, including all-terrain vehicles and parachute gear. Recruiters from the Kentucky Air and Army National Guard staffed displays at the event as well.
Story by Spc. David Bolton, Kentucky National Guard 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, with additional information from Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — Members of various National Guard units from the Eastern and Midwestern states converged at the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Aviation Brigade airfield at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. in response to disaster recovery operations in the wake of Hurricane Irene August 29.
“We’re here to help out where we’re needed,” said Capt. Josh P. Damera, commander of C Company of the 244th Florida Army National Guard and UH-60 pilot from Brookfield, Florida. “It’s why we wear the uniform.”
Eighteen aircraft including UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters stood ready as part of the second package of Task Force 151 to be called upon if needed to assist in state relief efforts.
Lt. Col. Andrew W. Batten, TF 151 aviation commander from Camden, South Carolina, said the assets were ready to move and was pleased with the response from supporting states.
“This shows that the National Guard Aviation is relevant and ready to respond,” said Batten.
The ability for National Guard service members to answer the call of their country, both domestic and abroad, efficiently stems from continuous training, coordination and exercises with local and state emergency responders nationwide.
According to Sgt. Devin Gregory, a UH-60 crew chief with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment out of Frankfort, Ky, “We have the ability to provide quick relief and provide medevac to put people where they need to be.”
Members of the 123rd Airlift Wing also made preparations for the mission. Airmen from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and 165th Airlift Squadron loaded up a Kentucky Air Guard C-130 expected to stage for rescue operations out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The deployment was called off just prior to the Airmen’s departure when damage from Irene was found to be less extensive than anticipated.
The National Guard is always ready and always there, trained and equipped to respond to any natural or man made disaster.
The following is a compilation of significant dates in our commonwealth’s military history. For more on the legacy of our Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, visit the Kentucky National Guard eMuseum.
August 1, 1864 – Daniel Weisiger Lindsey is appointed Adjutant General of Kentucky by Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette.
August 2, 1990 – Operation Desert Shield began.
August 3, 1795 – Treaty of Peace between the United States and the Allied Indian Tribes of the Northwest, signed at Greenville, in Ohio (Treaty of Greenville).
August 4, 1790 – U.S. Coast Guard established
August 4, 1950 – Defe
nse of Pusan/Naktong Perimeter began (Korean War)
August 5, 1968 – Death of Capt. Robert W. “Buz” Sawyer killed in an aircraft crash near Kansas City, Missouri in a RF-101 “Voodoo.” He was a member of the 165th Tactical Recon Sq on federal duty at Richards-Gabeur AFB, Missouri during the Pueblo call up.
August 7, 2002 – Death of Tech. Sgt. Christopher A. Matero and TSgt. Martin A. Tracy, Combat Controllers for the 123rd Special Tactics Flight of the Kentucky Air National Guard both perished when a U.S. Air Force MC-130H crashed during a training flight in Puerto Rico.
August 7, 1792 – Purple Heart Medal established
August 7, 1871 – U.S. and State Guard troops were called at Frankfort, Paris and Lexington, following rioting and shootings at polling locations.
August 7, 1942 – Battle of Guadalcanal (World War II)
August 9, 2001 – Dean Allen Youngman is appointed Adjutant General of Kentucky by Gov. Paul E. Patton.
August 12, 1782 – Battle of the Upper Blue Licks between Captain John Holder and a party of Kentuckians and a band of marauding Wyandotte Indians (Early Indian Wars)
August 12, 1952 – Battle of Bunker Hill (Hill 122) began (Korean War)
August 14, 1945 – Japan Surrendered, ending World War II.
August 15, 1782 – Siege of Bryan’s Station by Capt. William Caldwell and a combined force of Indians and Canadians. Siege lasted until 17 August 1782 (Early Indian Wars)
August 15, 1851 – Col. William L. Crittenden, of Louisville, Capt. Victor Kerr, and 48 others, nearly all Kentuckians under his command-deceived by Gen. Lopez into the belief that the “patriots” of Cuba were engaged in a revolution for freedom-engage in an armed expedition which invades the island; two days after landing, they are attacked by 700 Spanish troops, and after a gallant fight captured, and, next day, shot; of 80 others of his command, captured with him 77 were afterward shot. The U.S. Government promptly dispatch the steam frigate Saranac, to inquire into the circumstances.
August 15, 1944 – Allied Invasion of Southern France (World War II)
August 18, 1951 – Battle of Bloody Ridge began (Korean War)
August 19, 1782 – Battle of Blue Licks, Kentucky. On a hill next to the Licking River in what is now Robertson County, a force of about 50 British rangers and 300 American Indians ambushed and routed 182 Kentucky militiamen killing some 64. It was the worst defeat for the Kentuckians during the war (Considered the last battle of the American Revolution)
August 20, 1794– Battle of Fallen Timbers. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne defeats nearly 2000 Indians and 70 Canadians. Gen. Charles Scott, with 1600 Kentucky volunteers were part of this command (Early Indian Wars)
August 22, 1869 – Three companies of volunteer soldiers or state militia, 95 men in all, leave Louisville for Lebanon, to take care of the “Regulators,” whose depredations in that region are again making life unbearable.
August 26, 2007 – Staff Sgt. Nicholas Carnes of Ludlow (Kenton County) was killed by small arms fire during a firefight in the village of Lewanne Bazaar, Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Carnes, 25, was assigned to Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, based in Carrollton, Ky. Carnes deployed with his unit in March of 2007 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Carnes was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Afghanistan. A member of the Kentucky Army National Guard since 1999, Carnes is the fourteenth Kentucky Guard Soldier to lose his life as the result of combat action in the global war on terror. He is the second Soldier to be killed in Afghanistan (Global War on Terrorism)
August 29, 1952 – Korean War’s Largest Air Raid (Korean War)
August 31, 1847 – Requisition upon Kentucky for two more regiments of infantry for service in the Mexican War. Before September 20th they are reported and organized, 3rd Kentucky Regiment under command of Col. Manlius V. Thomson of Georgetown and 4th Kentucky Regiment under command of Col. John S. Williams of Winchester (Mexican-American War)
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Ketterer, Kentucky Air National Guard
ALBANY, Ky. (September 23, 2010)–
Kentucky Air National Guardsmen hosted an underwater search and rescue exchange with Ecuadorian military members and their National Police Sept. 17 at Dale Hollow Lake in Albany, Ky. The event was part of the State Partnership Program – a cooperative that allows Bluegrass guardsmen to interface and learn from their Ecuadorian counterparts.
“The State Partnership Program is widespread across the Guard because of the continuity and longevity of relationships our Guardsmen can provide,” said Maj. Matt Groves, Kentucky National Guard State Partnership Program Director.
“Kentucky formed our partnership with Ecuador in 1998. We were one of the first states to go in the [United States Southern Command area of operations] and we have had a mutually beneficial relationship with Ecuador for over a decade,” Groves said.
Representing the Commonwealth in the exchange and hosting of the event were pararescuemen from KYANG’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. They operated alongside and exchanged information with narcotics police, port inspectors and Marines from Ecuador.
Together, they dove at the lake, practiced with underwater radios and discussed techniques for performing search sweeps while submerged using a search grid.
“I believe this is going to make a tremendous difference for me when I return,” said an Ecuadorian Narcotics Police Officer, who will use the training for duties that require him to do counter drug inspections on the hulls of naval vessels and search and rescue missions near his port in the future. “There is a great benefit for me to learn how [Kentucky Airmen] operate. Truly, this is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to grow and share,” he said.
While the latest installment of the program focused on search and rescue, the Commonwealth and Ecuadorians have worked together on other exchanges such as aircraft maintenance, officer training, counter drug programs and munitions disposal, storage and transportation. Even though the dive subject matter expert exchange was led by the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, officials said the Airmen benefit extensively from the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to travel south and learn from the Ecuadorians.
“Ecuador is very geographically diverse,” said Groves. ”Their country has 20,000-foot mountains, the Amazon jungle, the Galapagos Islands and the Coastal Range. It offers a lot of benefit to our personnel to be able to go down there and operate in those diverse regions,” he said. “Search and rescue will definitely be a continuing theme in our Partnership with Ecuador and it’s an area where we can develop a great relationship.”
WATCH THE ALTERNATE BROADCAST VERSION OF THIS STORY BELOW
Image and Caption courtesy of Department of Military Affairs
FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 25, 2010) — Paktia Province, Afghanistan, March 4, 2002 – Operation Enduring Freedom, the military action against Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan, was the catalyst for the largest mobilization of Air National Guard personnel since the Korean War. It also marked the first time that Air National Guard ground units, particularly pararescue personnel and air combat controllers, were used to support joint ground combat operations.
As part of Enduring Freedom, in March 2002 a joint military operation named “Anaconda” was mounted in Paktia province to surround and defeat Taliban forces hiding in the area. On the third day of Operation Anaconda an Army MH-47E Chinook helicopter was fired upon as it attempted to land on a ridge on Takur Ghar mountain. Taking heavy fire, the helicopter lurched and attempted to take-off to extricate itself from the field of fire. When the Chinook lurched, one of the Navy SEALs on board, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, fell from the rear ramp. Too damaged to return for Petty Officer Roberts, the Chinook landed further down the mountain. A second MH-47E attempted to land and rescue Roberts, but it too was fired upon and forced to leave the immediate area. The third MH-47E to attempt a landing on what became known as Roberts’ Ridge was hit with automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades while still 20 feet in the air. The helicopter, containing an Army Ranger Team and Technical Sergeant Keary Miller, a Combat Search and Rescue Team Leader from the 123d Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, hit the ground hard. Within seconds, one helicopter crewman, the right door gunner, was killed, as were three Army Rangers.
The 17-hour ordeal that followed would result in the loss of seven American lives, including Petty Officer Roberts. Technical Sergeant Miller not only managed to drag the wounded helicopter pilot to safety, but also orchestrated the establishment of multiple casualty collection points. In between treating the wounded, Miller set up the distribution of ammunition for the Army Rangers who were taking the fight to the enemy. For his extraordinary life-saving efforts while putting himself in extreme danger under enemy fire, Technical Sergeant Miller was awarded the Silver Star by the U.S. Navy, one of the few members of the Air National Guard to be so honored.
Visit the Kentucky National Guard eMuseum: www.kynghistory.ky.gov
Visit the Kentucky National Guard Memorial: www.kyngmemorial.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 23, 2010
CONTACT: Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, 502-352-8008, email: email@example.com
Port au Prince, Haiti – Two Combat Controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123d Special Tactics Squadron have been hard at work since arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti last week, setting up drop zones, helicopter landing zones and providing airfield operations and air traffic control at the international airport.
The airmen are augmenting a Special Tactics Team from the 720th Special Tactics Group, based in Hurlburt Field, FL. Their names are not being released as part of the Department of Defense policy protecting the identity of special operations group members.
“These Airmen are doing a remarkable job,” said Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht,Public Affairs Officer for the Kentucky National Guard, speaking from the Dominican Republic. “In addition to their work at Port au Prince, they have scoured the country in helicopters to identify and survey suitable drop zones for the airdrop of relief supplies in otherwise unreachable areas.”
The combat controllers have to take careful consideration to ensure safety for the aircraft, Haitian citizens on the ground, and remaining structures.”
“They are doing everything possible to guarantee the relief makes it into the hands of those who are desperately in need,” said Hilbrecht. “Last Tuesday one of the combat controllers coordinated the first military C-17 airdrop of relief supplies into Haiti.”
Both Airmen are continuing with their mission to locate suitable drop zones as well as provide air traffic control at the Port-au-Prince International Airport.
The deployment of the two combat controllers was later followed with the deployment of 45 members of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group, which arrived yesterday in the Dominican Republic to assist in airfield operations supporting the relief effort.