Story by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Five combat controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard gained valuable extreme-weather experience recently by scaling to the top of Mount McKinley near Talkeetna, Alaska.
Senior Master Sgt. Wes Brooks, Master Sgts. Russ LeMay and Aaron May, and Tech. Sgts. Grant Kinlaw and Harley Bobay of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron reached the summit of North America’s highest mountain May 25 after many weeks of mid-altitude and high-altitude conditioning.
The objective of such extreme training, which involved glacier travel techniques, crevasse rescue operations and avalanche prediction, was to give the Airmen experience they might need during cold-weather, high-altitude military operations, according to Chief Master Sgt. Tom DeSchane, the 123rd’s combat control enlisted manager.
“In preparing for part of their war-time tasking, these guys have to practice their mountaineering skills and land navigation through arctic conditions,” DeSchane said. “Each operator is issued his own skis, snow shoes and all the accoutrements for surviving the elements. Going up Mount McKinley teaches them how to rope-in and traverse the terrain safely with all of the equipment that they have to carry.”
Combat controllers are part of the Air Force Special Operations community and are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. As 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.
Planning for the high-altitude training exercise began about a year ago when the five men participated in mountaineering training in the snowy mountains outside Salt Lake City, Utah, with other members of their squadron.
There, the squadron practiced knots, anchors and other rope skills, as well as movement techniques, minimalistic equipment and clothing, and medium-altitude terrain traversing.
“Originally, the idea to climb (McKinley) came from Aaron, who had tried to climb the mountain before with his previous unit,” LeMay said. “His team was unable to reach the summit when they stopped to help rescue another group of climbers who had an accident.”
Accidents on the mountain are common and mostly caused by climbers who are not properly trained or prepared for the change in altitude and the extreme environment.
The Kentucky team took great care in preparing for their climb.
When the five-member team arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, outside Denali National Park and Preserve, they spent the first day with a guide service, familiarizing themselves with their equipment and preparing meals. The team then departed by air taxi to Mount McKinley base camp, where they spent three days engaged in hands-on training to ensure a solid skill foundation.
For the next 13 days the five Airmen and two guides applied all of their skills and techniques to climb the mountain summit, stopping at camps along the way to acclimate, rest and complete training objectives, before making the return trip to base camp.
“Summit day was the hardest part of the climb,” LeMay said. “It took us five to six hours of straight climbing from the last camp we stayed at to reach it. We were the first group of the day to reach the summit so we had about 45 minutes to ourselves to see how beautiful it was. It was the clearest day at the top, so we could see for miles around us. It was amazing.”
Having to make way for other climbing groups, the combat controllers returned to the camp they stayed in the night before to rest for their descent.
“It was tough to go up to the top,” LeMay continued. “Everything about going up and coming down was tough. The cold-weather environment is very unforgiving, and it makes even the smallest tasks very difficult.
“It was the best kind of cold-weather training we could have gotten. Working in such a harsh environment gave us invaluable experience. The climb was amazing, but a lot of hard work.”
Story by Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two yellow goal posts stand quietly in their own zones, one at each end of a glorious field of green marked with bright white lines at 10-meter intervals, waiting for a rugger to ground the ball in the in-goal area for the first five points of the season.
Master Sgt. Russ LeMay, a combat controller from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, has been that player for both the U.S. Air Force and the Combined Services rugby teams in past seasons, and he hopes to be again in the upcoming seasons later this year.
A relatively new player to the sport, LeMay says rugby is his passion and that he was hooked from the start.
“I played football all through high school and never really thought of rugby,” the Kentucky Air Guardsman said. “I had a friend invite me out to play with him for the Louisville Men’s Rugby Club in 2009 and I couldn’t get enough. I loved the speed of the game, the strategy and the team work of all 15 players on the field. It is an amazing sport that keeps you going.”
That camaraderie, competition and love of the game is what compelled LeMay to try out for both of the national teams.
“These are high-level clubs,” LeMay said. “Some of these guys are playing for the best teams in the nation. It’s quite a step up from what normal club rugby is around the United States.”
During his off time from the two teams and in between his duties with the Air Guard, LeMay plays with his Louisville squad and has encouraged other Air Guard members to join him.
“So far, we have five guys from the unit who are playing,” he said. “We meet twice a week for practice, games on Saturday, and we always have a great time.”
Indeed, rugby is a growing sport across the United States. In 2012, the number of active registered players has grown to more than 115,000, according to USA Rugby, the sport’s governing body. The National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in 2010 ranked rugby as the fastest-growing sport in the nation.
Rugby will also make an appearance at 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio after being absent from the games since 1924.
“Not only is the sport growing here, it has begun to grow more in Kentucky and across parts of the United States,” LeMay said. “ It’s awesome to see.”
By Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, KY — Strong leadership, a commitment to self-improvement and a passion for community service are just a few of the reasons why Senior Airman Vincenzo Lafronza, Tech Sgt. Harley Bobay and Master Sgt. Sharon Foster have been named the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2013 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
“I am extremely proud to announce the selections for this year’s Airmen of the Year,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Smith, state command chief for Joint Forces Headquarters—Kentucky. “As with every year, the competition was keen, and the winners of each category were selected by the slimmest of margins. Each nominee is amazing, both in their respective duties here at the Guard and within their communities.”
Lafronza, the winner of the Airman category, is a C-130 crew chief for the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He was selected, in part, because of his exemplary knowledge of the Hercules aircraft, according to Senior Master Sgt. Tim Nash, Lafronza’s supervisor and a flight chief in the 123rd AMS.
“When I first met him, he was coming to us from a different unit working on different aircraft,” Nash said. “I thought he might have difficulty learning a different aircraft, but he didn’t. He hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped to look back.”
A Quality Assurance Honor Roll recipient for logging zero defects on 100 percent of assessment inspections, Lafronza had no idea he had even been nominated for the award.
“I thought I was just coming in every day and doing my job,” he said. “I just wanted to do the best I could, and someone took notice. I was very surprised and excited to be chosen.”
Lafronza is currently a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a volunteer for the New York Cares organization, which provides assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“I was checking on him during his leave after he returned home from a recent deployment,” Nash said, “and there he was, at a clothing distribution center, handing out clothes to people affected by the hurricane. He has a big heart, always ready to learn something new and the first to volunteer to help.”
Bobay, the winner in the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a combat controller for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and a recipient of both the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Deployed for 175 days in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Bobay sacrificed personal safety to save the lives of coalition forces while under constant enemy small-arms and mortar fire, according to Chief Master Sgt. Tom DeSchane, chief enlisted manager for the 123rd STS. Bobay helped neutralize every insurgent attack in his area and protect a local village from Taliban insurgency.
Aside from his tactical duties, Bobay is a mentor to younger, less-experienced members of the squadron.
“He is constantly passing down his knowledge to the younger guys,” DeSchane said. “He is always on the go, always training, always moving forward and looking for the next challenge. He is a hard worker who encourages those around him to work harder.”
Along with his mission responsibilities, Bobay balances family life with community volunteering. He is a wrestling coach for a local elementary and middle school and a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I was very surprised when I was chosen for the award,” Bobay said. “There are so many other people that I work with every day that do the same job as me, and do it better. It is very humbling to be chosen from among such a hardworking and dedicated group like these guys.”
Foster, who was selected as senior NCO of the year, is the non-commissioned officer in charge of force management for the 123rd Force Support Squadron, a customer-based organization.
“I have always had the utmost trust and confidence in Sergeant Foster’s ability to assist our customers,” said Chief Master Sgt. Lori Zinsmeister, chief enlisted manager for the 123rd FSS. “She takes the time to counsel each of them to give them the best information that she can.”
Some of Foster’s responsibilities include ensuring retirement, promotion and re-enlistment packets are put together correctly and accurately.
“I know that when I give her an assignment, or if one of our patrons asks for her assistance, the job will get done,” Zinsmeister said. “She is always doing work at a chief’s level: accurately and timely. I can trust her to get the job done.”
For Foster, who also won Airmen of the Year at the NCO level in 2005, the newest honor is confirmation of a continuing job well done.
“I was very surprised to have been nominated in the senior category,” she said. “It was a great feeling to be recognized the first time, but to have been nominated and selected a second time at a higher level is even better. It lets me know that the job I am doing does make a difference.”
The 2013 Outstanding Airmen of the Year will be honored, along with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s Outstanding Soldiers of the Year, during a banquet to be held March 16 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Tickets are for $25 per person and may be purchased from any chief master sergeant or sergeant major.
123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The new commander of Air Mobility Command visited the Kentucky Air National Guard here Feb. 5 to learn more about the mission of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
Gen. Paul J. Selva, who assumed command of AMC Nov. 30, attended a mission briefing and visited with Airmen from multiple Kentucky units, including the 165th Airlift Squadron, the 123rd Contingency Response Group, the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and the 123rd Force Support Squadron.
Accompanied by Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff, Air National Guard assistant to the commander of AMC, and Chief Master Sgt. Andy Kaiser, AMC command chief master sergeant, Selva also viewed demonstrations of the wing’s new Mobile Emergency Operations Center, a new Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Trailer and a C-130 Hercules aircraft configured for disaster-response operations.
Story by Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With 30 years of exemplary service in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, Chief Master Sgt. Patrick M. Malone was honorably retired from the Armed Forces Oct. 20 during a ceremony held in his honor at the 123rd Airlift Wing.
Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family and co-workers of all ranks, the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal and the Distinguished Kentucky Service Medal by squadron commander Lt. Col. Jeff Wilkinson.
“Chief Malone’s accomplishments are too many to name,” Wilkinson said. “He is a one-in-a-million individual. His degree of personality, talent, leadership and caring is so exceptional, that we are blessed to work with him. Men like him come around only once in a lifetime.”
Malone began his career in the Air Force on Oct. 19, 1982. After completing basic training, he went on to become a special operations pararescueman, a jump-qualified trauma-care specialist whose primary mission is to deploy into restricted environments and extract injured personnel. His first duty assignment was with the 6594th Test Group at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where he conducted numerous open-ocean rescue missions.
After serving an active-duty tour in Alaska as a member of the 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Malone joined the Alaska Air Guard. There, he assisted in several search-and-recovery missions and was credited with saving 85 lives.
In 2000, Malone enlisted in the Kentucky Air National Guard as its first pararescue senior enlisted advisor, playing a key role in the transformation of the existing 123rd Combat Control Flight into a special tactics squadron. He also personally led the Air National Guard special operations task force responsible for the evacuation of thousands of citizens in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.
“Chief Malone is a visionary,” Wilkinson told the audience. “He mentored, cultivated and trained future members of the new squadron. More than that, Chief Malone has built an everlasting bond of brotherhood within our unit.”
As part of the retirement ceremony, the special tactics squadron presented Malone and his family with a commemorative American flag.
“What can I say about my squadron — wow!” Malone remarked. “It has been my pleasure, my privilege and honor to work with you, and I salute you all.”
A combat veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom, Malone’s many decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Airman’s Medal, the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Malone thanked many of his co-workers and family members for their support during his career, but he reserved special recognition for his wife, Kim.
“You’re everything,” he said. “You have been here with me always. You are my mentor, my guide, and the love of my life. Thank you.”
Story by Master Sgt. Philip Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron held on to its title of most physically fit team in the Kentucky Air National Guard after competing against 14 other squads during the fourth-annual 123rd Airlift Wing Fitness Challenge here Oct. 21.
Sixty Airmen competed in the challenge, which tested four-person teams on their ability to complete a circuit of 80 pushups, 40 sit-ups and a 1.5-mile relay race. Teams could be all male or co-ed.
The special tactics squad set a new record this year, completing the challenge in 8 minutes and 54 seconds — 6 seconds faster than the record they set last year.
Tech. Sgt. Shaun Cowherd, base fitness program manager for the 123rd Force Support Squadron, said the challenge helps build esprit de corps across the wing while promoting fitness.
“Year after year, we’re seeing the times get faster and faster,” he said. “It shows that people are paying attention to fitness and being fit to fight.”
The STS team was comprised of Capt. Nathan Tingle, Tech. Sgt. Harley Bobay, Staff Sgt. Oliver Smith and Senior Airman Matt Ray, each of whom received a wing commander’s coin.
The 123rd Security Forces Squadron team came in a close second at 9:01, followed by a team from the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron at 9:22. The top-scoring co-ed team hailed from the 165th Airlift Squadron.
“Being my first year involved with the Fitness Challenge, I was excited to see the participation from each unit, both from the competitors and the spectators,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Fairbanks of the 123rd Force Support Squadron. “I think events like the Fitness Challenge increase camaraderie within individual units and have a morale-boosting affect base-wide, strengthening the 123rd as a whole.”
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.”