Kentucky Air Guard supports Patriot missile movement to Turkey

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Philip Speck
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing played a key role in the movement of three Patriot missile batteries and more than two million pounds of support equipment to Turkey earlier this month.

Twenty Airmen from the wing's 123rd Contingency Response Group, augmented by members of the 123rd Aerial Port Flight, traveled to Oklahoma where they joined forces with active-duty Airmen from the 97th Air Mobility Wing, the U.S. Army's 31st Air Defense Artillery Army Brigade and several other units to deploy the Patriots in support of Turkish self-defense capabilities, said Maj. Ash Groves, who served as commander of the Kentucky element.

Grove's team inspected the outbound cargo for shipment, devised C-5 and C-17 aircraft load plans, and directed the loading of 21 aircraft with equipment and more than 300 personnel in just six days, he said.

The operation followed U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's Dec. 14 order to deploy the batteries in an effort to de-escalate tensions along the Turkey-Syrian border while demonstrating NATO solidarity.

Kentucky's role began Dec. 26 when a four-person Joint Inspection Team deployed to Fort Sill, Okla., to perform an initial pre-joint inspection on the Patriots, rolling stock and associated equipment before they were moved by road to Altus Air Force Base, Okla. A week later, the JI team relocated to Altus to join with Groves and a 15-person aerial port movement team, which had just arrived via a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 from Louisville.

Over the next six days, the Kentucky Airmen worked with officials at Altus to ensure the Patriots would be loaded onto aircraft and flown overseas as expeditiously as possible.

Groves said that 18th Air Force officials requested the Kentucky Air Guard by name for this mission, in part because of the wing's capabilities and proven record for mission accomplishment.

"We continue to establish the 123rd Airlift Wing as the go-to unit," Groves said. "You call us when you need a quality product. All you need to know is that the outcome will be outstanding."

All 20 Kentucky Airmen received Army Commendation Medals from the 31st Air Defense Artillery Army Brigade commander, Col. Michael T. Morrissey, for their outstanding work during the deployment.

"These folks had an opportunity to deploy and do their mission," said Col. Mark Heiniger, commander of the 123rd Contingency response Group. "They accepted that challenge and did an outstanding job."