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Wing claims top honors for excellence

Col. Mark Kraus, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, attaches a 12th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award streamer to the wing’s colors during a Sept. 16 awards ceremony held in the base Fuel Cell Hangar.

The honor recognizes the wing’s achievements from March 6, 2003 to March 15, 2004, when unit personnel deployed around the world for combat and combat support operations in the Global War on Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. (Capt. Dale Greer/KyANG)

Col. Mark Kraus, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, attaches a 12th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award streamer to the wing’s colors during a Sept. 16 awards ceremony held in the base Fuel Cell Hangar. The honor recognizes the wing’s achievements from March 6, 2003 to March 15, 2004, when unit personnel deployed around the world for combat and combat support operations in the Global War on Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. (Capt. Dale Greer/KyANG)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Louisville, Ky. -- Members of the 123rd Airlift Wing gathered in the base Fuel Cell Hangar Sept. 16 to celebrate two prestigious new honors -- the wing's 12th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and its third Curtis N. "Rusty" Metcalf Trophy. 

The Metcalf award, bestowed annually by the National Guard Bureau, recognizes the airlift or air refueling unit that demonstrates the highest standards of mission accomplishment. The wing previously won Metcalf trophies in 1994 and 2002. 

The wing's last Air Force Outstanding Unit Award also was bestowed in 2002, but the latest one is especially noteworthy because it includes a citation for valor -- earned as a result of the unit's participation in dangerous combat missions in the Central Command Area of Operations. 

The new awards continue the wing's tradition as one of the most decorated units in the U.S. Air Force, said Brig. Gen. Howard Hunt, Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air. 

"Our Airmen continue set the standard for excellence no matter where they serve around the world," said General Hunt, who presented the awards to 123rd Airlift Wing commander Col. Mark Kraus during last month's celebration. 

"Our people are the best of the best. We as Kentucky Air National Guardsmen have made a mark in the Global War on Terror that very few others can match." 

The outstanding unit award was bestowed for the wing's accomplishments from March 6, 2003 to March 15, 2004. During this period, six of the wing's C-130s, 12 associated aircrews and dozens of support personnel deployed with just four days' notice to a forward operating base and two follow-on locations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

From these austere locations, the wing's members completed more than 1,500 accident-free combat and combat-support missions, delivering more than 3,100 tons of material and 7,900 passengers to 37 airfields and 12 countries in Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa. 

Another six aircrews, four C-l30 aircraft and support personnel deployed on 10 days' notice to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where they led operations that carried more than 19,100 passengers and 6,100 tons of cargo to 59 locations and 38 countries in Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa in support of ongoing combat operations. 

Aircraft maintenance personnel working from locations in Southwest Asia and Germany contributed significantly to the success of these missions, accomplishing "an astounding 99 percent departure reliability rate and a superior mission capability rate of 88 percent," General Hunt said. 

Other support troops, including security forces and civil engineers, provided crucial services at Baghdad International Airport. Firefighters from the wing were instrumental in saving more than $20 million in equipment from destruction by quickly containing a fire in a hangar stocked with petroleum and munitions. 

The Metcalf Trophy was awarded for the wing's accomplishments during calendar year 2006. During this time, the unit expertly managed a busy deployment schedule, sending 560 troops to locations around the world, including sites in Afghanistan, Iraq, Curacao, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Antarctica. 

The unit also supported Operation Coronet Oak, airlifting more than 18 tons of cargo to locations throughout South America and the Caribbean; and Operation Jump Start, the National Guard-led effort to secure the nation's border with Mexico. 

The latter effort included more than 30 civil engineering troops who were among the first nationwide to deploy for a mission to erect border fencing; a cadre of Kentucky Airmen who volunteered to monitor illegal border crossings under austere field conditions; and a group of Kentucky Air Guard officers who established a leadership team at Joint Forces Headquarters in Arizona. 

The wing also successfully completed an Air Mobility Command Operational Readiness Inspection, achieved unit staffing levels of 100.4 percent and continued an enviable safety record, with 63,416 accident-free flying hours since 1992. 

Speaking to the audience during last month's award ceremony, Colonel Kraus said the Metcalf trophy rightly recognizes the exceptional work and sacrifices made by members of the 123rd Airlift Wing during 2006. 

"It's been a long year of inspections, exercises and deployments to the farthest reaches of the globe," he said. "In every instance, and with every tasking, you have performed with professionalism, dedication, perseverance and a great attitude that has reflected well on the Kentucky Air National Guard. 

"I could not be more proud or feel more privileged than to serve alongside you in defense of America. "Today, receiving the Rusty Metcalf Trophy formalizes the fact that you are the top airlift wing in the nation, and that makes you a champion in my book. You earned this award, and you deserve it."