Wing concludes mission in Afghanistan
By Capt. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Officer
/ Published August 20, 2008
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Louisville, Ky. -- Kentucky Air Guardsmen delivered thousands of tons of equipment and supplies to forward-deployed troops across Afghanistan during a nine-week deployment to Bagram Airfield that concluded earlier this month, said Col. Mark Kraus, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
More than 210 Kentucky Airmen participated in the mission between July 5, when the wing first began deploying troops, and Sept. 9, when the final rotation of 31 Kentucky Airmen returned home.
Most served on rotations lasting about 30 days, during which they joined forces with personnel from other Air Guard C-130 units, including wings based in New York and Idaho. The deployed Airmen included pilots, navigators, loadmasters, maintenance personnel and support troops.
Colonel Kraus, who was tapped as deputy commander of Bagram's 455th Expeditionary Operations Group, said the deployment was one of the most challenging airlift missions he's ever experienced.
"Some of the drop zones were extraordinarily small -- like 100 yards by 150 yards -- and we had to deal with very unpredictable winds," he said. "We also were dropping into some of the most rugged terrain you'll find anywhere in the world, sometimes to troops who were in contact with the enemy.
"So trying to drop supplies was quite difficult. Every second you're early or late on a drop means the cargo is going to land about 100 to 150 yards off target."
Even routine flights to forward operating bases proved challenging, in part because landing strips often were short, unpaved, surrounded by hazards like ditches or mountain ranges, and unlighted, requiring the use of night-vision goggles.
"Night-vision goggles cause depth-perception issues," Colonel Kraus said, "but they're almost a necessity there because of the terrain."
Afghanistan's high altitude and summer heat posed problems, too, especially considering that most of the sorties called for cargo loads at or near the limits of a C-130's capacity.
"When your heavy, you've got high temperatures and high altitudes, all those things work against your aircraft's performance," Kraus said.
Despite the challenges, Kentucky's Airmen persevered, successfully transporting thousands of troops and thousands of tons of cargo while exemplifying what Colonel Kraus described as "the highest degree of professionalism."
"Our folks did a fantastic job in Afghanistan," he said. "They performed flawlessly in a tough environment, and I can't think of anything they could have done better. "I'm so proud of everyone who deployed over there and took part in the mission."