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Kentucky Air Guard deploys 32 to Puerto Rico to establish air hub for Hurricane Maria relief

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group board a West Virginia Air National Guard C-17 at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept 23, 2017, in support of Hurricane Maria recovery operations. Thirty-two members of the unit are deploying to San Juan, Puerto Rico to establish an air cargo hub to process relief supplies.

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group board a West Virginia Air National Guard C-17 at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept 23, 2017, in support of Hurricane Maria recovery operations. Thirty-two members of the unit are deploying to San Juan, Puerto Rico to establish an air cargo hub to process relief supplies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing load equipment onto a West Virginia Air National Guard C-17 at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept 23, 2017, in support of Hurricane Maria recovery operations. Thirty-two members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group are deploying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, along with the equipment to establish an air cargo hub to process relief supplies.

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing load equipment onto a West Virginia Air National Guard C-17 at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept 23, 2017, in support of Hurricane Maria recovery operations. Thirty-two members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group are deploying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, along with the equipment to establish an air cargo hub to process relief supplies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, provides air traffic control to planes delivering relief supplies to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 22, 2017. Bobay is one of seven Airmen from the unit who deployed to the Caribbean to support recovery operations following Hurricane Maria.

Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, provides air traffic control to planes delivering relief supplies to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 22, 2017. Bobay is one of seven Airmen from the unit who deployed to the Caribbean to support recovery operations following Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)

A combat controller from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron provides air traffic control to planes delivering relief supplies to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 22, 2017. Seven Airmen from the unit deployed to the Caribbean on Sept. 21 to support recovery operations following Hurricane Maria.

A combat controller from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron provides air traffic control to planes delivering relief supplies to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 22, 2017. Seven Airmen from the unit deployed to the Caribbean on Sept. 21 to support recovery operations following Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Thirty-two members of the 123rd Contingency Response Group departed the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here today to establish an air cargo hub that will support Hurricane Maria relief operations across the Caribbean.

The Kentucky Air Guardsmen are deploying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they will establish an Intermediate Staging Base to receive cargo and humanitarian aid by airlift, and prepare it for forward distribution as needed, according to Lt. Col. Steve Campbell, one of the group’s squadron commanders. They’ll join a team of eight Kentucky Airmen who arrived in Puerto Rico hours earlier to assess the operational capabilities at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and prepare the airfield for the arrival of the main body.

The unit is completely self-sufficient and typically achieves operational status within hours of arriving on the ground, Campbell said. They bring with them everything needed to operate an air cargo hub, from communications and power-generation capability to all-terrain forklifts and aircraft maintenance personnel.

“We’ll go in there and set up everything to sustain operations immediately,” Campbell said. “We don’t need any outside water, electricity or comms because we bring our own. All we need is a runway and a ramp, and we’ll set up an airfield to start bringing in relief supplies.

“Our unit is usually on a 12-hour stand-by for missions like this, and we like to operate that way,” Campbell added. “We were also deployed to Texas in support of Hurricane Harvey, and we came home and reconstituted in two days. So we were packed up and ready to go again when the call came for Maria. Readiness is our mission, and we love doing it.”

Members of Kentucky’s 123rd Contingency Response Group have a lengthy history of deploying in support of disaster-recovery operations. In 2010, the unit was hand-picked to establish and operate one of two overseas airlift hubs supporting earthquake-recovery efforts in Haiti, directing the delivery of hundreds of tons of relief supplies into the Dominican Republic for subsequent trucking to Haiti.

The 123rd CRG also deployed to Senegal in 2014 to establish and operate an Aerial Port of Debarkation/Intermediate Staging Base in support of Operation United Assistance, the international effort to fight the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The unit’s Airmen processed 193 aircraft and 1,200 short tons of cargo, including blood, plasma and tactical vehicles during the two-month deployment.

As today’s group prepares to stand up an air hub in Puerto Rico, other members of the Kentucky Air Guard have been operating in the theater since Thursday, when seven Airmen from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands. To date, those Airmen have provided air traffic control for 75 aircraft supporting relief operations in St. Croix.

In addition, the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron deployed three C-130 aircraft and 21 Airmen to the Caribbean on Friday to fly airlift missions throughout the region, said Lt. Col. Matt Quenichet, the unit’s director of operations.

Brig. Gen. Warren Hurst, Kentucky’s assistant adjutant general for Air, noted that Maria marks the third hurricane in a month for which Airmen have deployed from the Kentucky Air Guard and its main operational unit, the 123rd Airlift Wing.

“The 123rd Airlift Wing, 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, 165th Airlift Squadron, and 123rd Contingency Response Group have done a tremendous job supporting back-to-back hurricane rescue, relief and evacuation operations for the past several weeks,” Hurst said.

“The 123rd Airlift Wing commander, Col. Dave Mounkes, in anticipation of emerging requirements properly prepared and positioned his forces to respond in minimum time when tasked for support. The effective coordination between the wing and multiple headquarters is at an all-time high. There has been an incredible support effort at the base to make this happen.

“I am very proud of our airmen and command team at the 123rd Airlift Wing.”