By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing
/ Published April 24, 2010
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing has been awarded its 14th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award -- an extraordinary achievement that confirms the wing's standing as one of the most decorated organizations in the United States military, said Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, Kentucky's adjutant general.
The award was formally presented by Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs, during a ceremony held April 17 at Louisville Male High School.
Wing officials believe that no other Air Guard unit has won as many Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. The North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing has 13 such honors, and the 116th Air Control Wing, a joint active-duty/Air National Guard unit based in Georgia, has 14.
The Kentucky unit's previous honors were bestowed in 1970, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006 and 2008.
"This latest award is only the most recent in a long series of honors -- stretching back decades -- that recognizes the 123rd Airlift Wing as one the finest units in the Air National Guard or the U.S. Air Force," General Tonini said.
"Whether they're deploying to Afghanistan to provide crucial airlift for Operation Enduring Freedom or delivering life-saving assistance during last year's devastating ice storm in Kentucky, the men and women of the 123rd Airlift Wing have shown repeatedly that they are ready to answer the call to duty, any time, anywhere, and perform their mission with a level of excellence that is unsurpassed in the U.S. military."
The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award recognizes exceptionally meritorious service or outstanding achievement. It is bestowed on the top 10 percent of all Air Force organizations each year.
The new award recognizes the 123rd Airlift Wing's accomplishments from Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2009. During those two years, the wing stepped up to perform numerous critical missions at home and abroad, deploying 759 personnel to 62 locations in 20 countries -- many of them in harm's way.
For example, about 300 Kentucky Airmen and multiple C-130 aircraft were deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, from March through May 2009 to provide key airlift support for U.S. forces engaged with the enemy in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The unit maintained an unprecedented 100 percent mission-capable rate during the deployment, never missing a single scheduled flight due to aircraft maintenance issues while completing more than 1,500 combat sorties that delivered 3,900 tons of cargo and transported 20,000 troops throughout the theater of operations.
The wing also deployed more than 120 Airmen and two C-130 aircraft to the Caribbean in support of Operation Coronet Oak, an ongoing U.S. Southern Command mission to provide theater airlift capability for U.S. military and government agencies in Central and South America.
A third major overseas deployment saw more than 200 Kentucky Air Guardsmen and three C-130 aircraft deploy to Ramstein Airbase, Germany, from January through March 2008 and August through September 2009 as part of Operation Joint Enterprise.
Kentucky aircrews transported more than 200 tons of cargo and 700 troops to 18 nations across Europe and Africa during their tours.
The unit was equally engaged back home. When Hurricane Gustav began closing in on the Gulf Coast in August 2008, the 123rd Airlift Wing provided the facilities and support for relief agencies to evacuate more than 1,400 New Orleans residents to Louisville and then repatriate them after the danger had passed.
The wing also stood up the Air National Guard's first Contingency Response Group -- a rapid-reaction "airbase in a box" with all the personnel, training and equipment needed to deploy to a remote site, open up a runway and establish airfield operations so that aid and troops can begin to flow into affected areas after a disaster.
The group was instrumental in responding to the statewide ice storm last year that left nearly 770,000 households without power and water for days. All told, the wing deployed more than 380 Airmen across the Commonwealth to clear roads, distribute food and water and conduct house-to-house "wellness checks" credited with saving two people from death by carbon monoxide poisoning.
The wing's combat readiness also was validated by an Air Mobility Command Unit Compliance Inspection, which awarded the 123rd with an overall rating of "excellent."
"Our men and women stand ready to do their job anywhere, any time we are called," said Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
"I am proud to be a member of the 123rd Airlift Wing, and I am humbled to be their commander," the colonel said.
"The 123rd is truly the greatest tactical airlift wing in the United States Air Force."