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123rd Airlift Wing completes deployment to Persian Gulf

A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing gets a welcome-home hug from loved ones Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing gets a welcome-home hug from loved ones Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Fire trucks spay water in symbolic salute to a C-130 Hercules aircraft as it taxies onto the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 10, 2012, carrying 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who were returning from the Persian Gulf. The Airmen, all members of the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing, spent the past four months flying airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Fire trucks spay water in symbolic salute to a C-130 Hercules aircraft as it taxies onto the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 10, 2012, carrying 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who were returning from the Persian Gulf. The Airmen, all members of the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing, spent the past four months flying airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Hundreds of friends and family members gather at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 10, 2012, to welcome home 58 Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing. The Airmen just completed a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region, where they flew daily airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Hundreds of friends and family members gather at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 10, 2012, to welcome home 58 Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing. The Airmen just completed a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region, where they flew daily airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing displays the American flag Nov. 10, 2012, as his aircraft taxies onto the flight line at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The aircraft and 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen were returning home from a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing displays the American flag Nov. 10, 2012, as his aircraft taxies onto the flight line at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The aircraft and 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen were returning home from a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Normal Adwell, who served with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, shows his support for Kentucky Air National Guardsmen during a welcome-home ceremony held Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airmen have been overseas since early July, flying airlift missions across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. Adwell is part of Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcycle enthusiasts whose mission is to support military members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Normal Adwell, who served with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, shows his support for Kentucky Air National Guardsmen during a welcome-home ceremony held Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airmen have been overseas since early July, flying airlift missions across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. Adwell is part of Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcycle enthusiasts whose mission is to support military members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Colorful hearts, made by children at Crums Lane Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., provide a cheerful welcome for 58 Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing who returned to Louisville Nov. 10, 2012, after a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. The Airmen, all members of the Kentucky Air National Guard, flew daily airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Colorful hearts, made by children at Crums Lane Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., provide a cheerful welcome for 58 Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing who returned to Louisville Nov. 10, 2012, after a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. The Airmen, all members of the Kentucky Air National Guard, flew daily airlift missions in support of U.S. military operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Maj. Jennifer Helton, a navigator for the 165th Airlift Squadron, fights back tears Nov. 10, 2012, as she hugs her son next to the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Helton was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Maj. Jennifer Helton, a navigator for the 165th Airlift Squadron, fights back tears Nov. 10, 2012, as she hugs her son next to the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Helton was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Maj. Jennifer Helton, a navigator for the 165th Airlift Squadron, hugs her son next to the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 12, 2012. Helton was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Basic Joshua L. Horton)

Maj. Jennifer Helton, a navigator for the 165th Airlift Squadron, hugs her son next to the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 12, 2012. Helton was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Basic Joshua L. Horton)

Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air, welcomes home a Kentucky Air Guard member Nov. 10, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air, welcomes home a Kentucky Air Guard member Nov. 10, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Fellow Airmen welcome home 58 members of the 123rd Airlift Wing on the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 10, 2012. The Guardsmen were returning from a four-month deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)
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Fellow Airmen welcome home 58 members of the 123rd Airlift Wing on the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 10, 2012. The Guardsmen were returning from a four-month deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing is greeted by loved ones during a homecoming event Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)
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A member of the 123rd Airlift Wing is greeted by loved ones during a homecoming event Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The Airman was one of 58 Kentucky Guardsmen returning from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Hundreds of friends and family members gathered at the Kentucky Air National Guard base over the weekend to welcome home 72 Airmen from a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, where the troops have been working since July to support military operations across Northern Africa and Western Asia.

Fifty-eight of the aircrew members and maintenance personnel arrived home aboard a Kentucky Air Guard C-130 on Nov. 10, while 14 more came home Nov. 11. An earlier rotation of more than 20 Guardsmen returned from the same location in September, according to Lt. Col. Shawn Dawley, commander of the 165th Airlift Squadron.

Operating from an undisclosed airbase in the Persian Gulf region, the Kentucky Airmen flew over 1,200 combat and combat-support missions in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, moving more than 3,000 tons of cargo and 12,000 passengers to locations as widely separated as Iraq, Egypt and the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dawley said.

The Kentucky Guardsmen -- all members of the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing -- were joined at their deployed location by troops from the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based 30th Airlift Squadron, an active duty-Air Guard associate unit; the active-duty 36th Airlift Squadron from Yakota Air Base, Japan; and troops from the Missouri and Wyoming Air Guard.

The blended nature of the group proved to be one of the mission's biggest challenges -- and ultimate strengths.

"We didn't have the luxury of a one-week stand down to get to know each other when we arrived in theater," said Dawley, who served as commander of the deployed 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. "It was like changing the oil in your car while you're still driving down the road at 60 miles an hour. But we truly did have a great group of guys on this deployment. Everyone really came together to complete the mission."

Dawley also had high praise for Kentucky's aircraft maintenance troops, who provided exceptional service during the deployment.

"The maintenance (team) generated a 'fully mission-capable rate' which exceeded the rate of all other maintenance packages that have ever been deployed to our location," he said. "With that many good planes to fly every day, the flying squadron was then able to set a record-high mission-effective rate. We often flew several hundred sorties in a row before we had to cancel a mission for any reason.

"Those figures look great on a slide, but I recognize that each one of them reflects a lot of tireless work on the part of the maintainers who gave us the airplanes, and the aircrews who always found a way to get the mission done."

The deployment was the Kentucky Air Guard's seventh major mobilization to CENTCOM since 2003. Previous deployments sent hundreds of Kentucky Air Guard forces to multiple locations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In 2007, for example, more than 210 wing members deployed to Afghanistan to airdrop thousands of tons of vital equipment and supplies to forward-deployed troops who were in direct contact with the enemy, navigating some of the most rugged, high-altitude terrain anywhere in the world.

Nearly 300 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returned to Afghanistan in 2009 for the same mission, transporting 20,000 troops and 6,000 tons of cargo across the theater of operations. Most recently, about 160 Kentucky Airmen broke airlift records when they airdropped or transported an unprecedented amount of cargo and personnel in support of Operation Enduring Freedom while deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from October 2010 to January 2011.

Since 9/11, more than 15,000 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have mobilized in support of the Global War on Terror.