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Kentucky Airmen support Operation Enduring Freedom

Capt. Casey Clark, a pilot for the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Airlift Wing, and other airmen attend a pre-deployment briefing prior to their departure out of Louisville, Ky., October 30, 2010.  Approximately 160 members from the wing are scheduled to deploy in support of the Central Command's Air Expeditionary Force.  (US Air Force Photo by MSgt. Phil Speck)

Capt. Casey Clark, a pilot for the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Airlift Wing, and other airmen attend a pre-deployment briefing prior to their departure out of Louisville, Ky., October 30, 2010. Approximately 160 members from the wing are scheduled to deploy in support of the Central Command's Air Expeditionary Force. (US Air Force Photo by MSgt. Phil Speck)

Master Sgt. Shaun Cecil, Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Civil Engineers Squadron Airman, hugs a loved one before deploying in support on December 8, 2010.  The Airmen will be supporting airbase operations at an undisclosed location during a six-month tour of duty.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Master Sgt. Shaun Cecil, Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Civil Engineers Squadron Airman, hugs a loved one before deploying in support on December 8, 2010. The Airmen will be supporting airbase operations at an undisclosed location during a six-month tour of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

An Airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Civil Engineers Squadron, Louisville, Ky., waves goodbye as several members of the unit depart Louisville International Airport for Afghanistan Dec. 8, 2010.  The Airmen will be supporting airbase operations at an undisclosed location during a six-month tour of duty.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

An Airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Civil Engineers Squadron, Louisville, Ky., waves goodbye as several members of the unit depart Louisville International Airport for Afghanistan Dec. 8, 2010. The Airmen will be supporting airbase operations at an undisclosed location during a six-month tour of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With the first chalk of Bluegrass Airmen anticipated to return to Louisville, Ky., Wing leaders said the Commonwealth should be proud of the historic contributions it's Air National Guard members continue to make in Afghanistan.

According to Lt. Col. Barry Gorter, 123d Airlift Wing Operations Group commander, the more than 160 members of the 123d who supported the airlift mission for Operation Enduring Freedom were part of record-setting effort.

"The Kentucky Air National Guard was part of a rotation that set records for [Central Command] in the theater for air drops and tonnage moved. This is one of the most productive [Air Expeditionary Force rotations] that the C-130 community has ever seen," Colonel Gorter said. "We've done extremely well."

Colonel Gorter said the deployed Airmen were instrumental in resupplying soldiers at forward operating bases throughout the area of operations. "At many of these remote locations, the only way to get supplies is via air. We saw our crews delivering people, ammo, food, water, medical supplies and fuel."

The more remote the location, the poorer the runways and more demanding the maneuvers became for pilots and aircrew. The aircraft "took a beating," Colonel Gorter said. And yet, the mission capable rate of aircraft remained at a level that astonished the average aircrew day is typically limited to 14 hours. Yet, aircrew were routinely getting waivers to work beyond normal limitations to accomplish their mission.

Meanwhile, the operations tempo impacted maintainers who worked intensively to keep the aircraft capable of the peak performances required.

"Everyone is having a great time and doing well," Colonel Gorter said about the feedback he's received from the front. The reason for high morale is that the deployed Airmen were in their element.

"We've been preparing for this deployment for the last six months," said Lt. Col. Kevin Morris, C-130 Hercules navigator, before leaving in October for his fifth deployment. "It's what we're here for - it's what we're here to do."

"There's a feeling of accomplishment there. They are contributing to the war effort. Despite the dangers and difficulties of long duty days and flying in challenging conditions, this is the game everyone signed up to do," Colonel Gorter said.

"Kentucky Airmen are in the fight. The greater the challenge, the higher we'll rise to accomplish the mission," Colonel Gorter said.

Aircrew and maintainers are not alone.

Civil engineers from the 123d are deploying on six-month rotations to support combat operations in the same theater. Kentucky Airmen have deployed countless times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as supporting both state and overseas disaster relief missions.

The Kentucky National Guard currently has over 300 Soldiers and Airmen deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nearly 14,000 troops have been mobilized for the War on Terror since 2001.