Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, says the new 123rd Contingency Response Group places the Kentucky Air Guard at the forefront of engagement, both at home and abroad. (USAF photo by Capt. Dale Greer.)
Col. Warren Hurst, commander of the 123rd Contingency Response Group, addresses Kentucky Airmen during the unit’s activation ceremony in the Base Fuel Cell Hangar on March 15. (USAF photo by Capt. Dale Greer.)
by Capt. John Stamm
Deputy Wing Public Affairs Officer
4/25/2009 - KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A new crisis- and contingency-response team is now open for business at the Kentucky Air National Guard.
Officials here formally stood up the 123rd Contingency Response Group during an activation ceremony held in the base Fuel Cell Hangar on April 15.
The unit is designed to be a early responder in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other major emergency anywhere within a 400-mile radius of Louisville, according to the group's commander, Col. Warren Hurst. The unit also is capable of supporting military contingency operations worldwide.
Described as an "airbase in a box," the 123rd Contingency Response Group has all the personnel, training and equipment needed to deploy to a remote site, open a runway and establish airfield operations so that aid or troops can begin to flow into affected areas.
"Our training, experience and equipment -- including immediate access to the Kentucky Air Guard's C-130 aircraft -- mean that we can rapidly deploy in any contingency situation any quickly establish initial operating capabilities for humanitarian or military airlift," Colonel Hurst explained.
Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, noted that the 123rd CRG is the first such combat-ready unit in the Air National Guard.
"These forces are now ready to deploy at a moment's notice to support individual operations, another wing or civilian humanitarian relief efforts locally, within the United States or anywhere on the globe," he said.
Unit members represent a broad spectrum of specialties, including airfield security, ramp and cargo operations, and command and control. Most of the group's Airmen were already members of the Kentucky Air National Guard before transferring to the CRG and have deep operational experience from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from stateside operations in support of relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
The new group can expect to serve overseas to meet ongoing operations needs, officials said. Since 9/11, for example, the U.S. Air Force has established about 40 new air fields from scratch in the Central Command Area of Operations, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. The Kentucky unit's skills would be a perfect fit for such missions, Colonel Hurst said.
The CRG concept was developed after initial operations in Afghanistan, when the Air Force recognized the need for a highly specialized team capable of rapid deployment -- usually with just a few hours' notice -- to assess, prepare and command newly acquired airfields for expeditionary aerospace forces.
"We follow seizure forces, assess the airfield and then immediately set up airfield operations," Colonel Hurst said. "After we have operations up and running, we hand it off to the unit selected to operate at that particular location."
The CRG concept has further evolved to now include homeland crisis-response efforts. Whether at home or abroad, officials say the 123rd CRG will meld multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams under a single commander to maximize unity of effort while minimizing personnel and equipment.
Kentucky's unit is comprised of two squadrons: the 123rd Global Mobility Squadron, which provides the first on-scene Air Force troops trained in command and control, aerial port operations and maintenance; and the 123rd Global Mobility Readiness Squadron, whose mission is to establish security and other base support capabilities like logistics, fuels and intelligence.
The Kentucky Air Guard announced its new mission in November 2006 and established a task force to start working on the CRG activation process.
"We began developing plans right away," said Colonel Hurst. "I came on board in April of 2007 and continued the process of selecting unit members. Within a few months, we had the core nucleus of our new group. It is an exciting and challenging opportunity to build a new group, one of the first in the Air National Guard."
According to Colonel Hurst, the Air Force had been looking for an Air National Guard or Reserve unit to form another CRG. At the time, the 123rd Airlift Wing was downsizing from 12 to eight C-130 aircraft and had excess manpower. Most of those "excess" troops already had the requisite global experience needed to excel in the new unit.
"We've been doing expeditionary missions here for quite some time," Colonel Hurst noted. "We supported relief missions in Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo. We also had some of the same AFSCs that the new unit would require, so it was a very logical fit to bring the CRG here. The active-duty Air Force realized that."
The 123rd CRG began training in October 2007, sending 60 personnel to the Contingency Response Formal Training Unit at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center located at Fort Dix, N.J. Since then, unit members have been deployed as augmentees to other CRGs during operations in Germany, Israel, the former Soviet republic of Georgia and, currently, to Afghanistan, Croatia and Poland. The unit also led Air Guard relief efforts here in Kentucky during a recent ice storm that caused massive power outages and confined many residents to their homes.
"During the ice storm, we went door to door checking on the condition of our citizens to see if they were in need of help," Colonel Nelson said. "Our team identified a couple suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and provided medical attention immediately.
"It most likely saved their lives."
Officially activated on Feb. 1, 2009, the new unit is now one of only 10 such CRGs in the entire Air Force.
It joins the 615th Contingency Response Wing (570th, 571st and 572nd CRGs) at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; the 621st Contingency Response Wing (816th, 817th and 818th CRGs) and the 108th CRG (Air National Guard) at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.; the 86th CRG, Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and the 36th CRG, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.