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Kentucky Air Guard deploys for Southern Command airlift mission

Loadmasters from the 123rd Airlift Wing direct a pallet of cargo onto a C-130 aircraft on the flightline of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 2, 2011, as nearly 50 Kentucky Air Guard aircrew members, maintenance personnel and support troops prepared to deploy to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in support of Operation Coronet Oak. The mission provides vital airlift capabilities throughout the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Loadmasters from the 123rd Airlift Wing direct a pallet of cargo onto a C-130 aircraft on the flightline of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 2, 2011, as nearly 50 Kentucky Air Guard aircrew members, maintenance personnel and support troops prepared to deploy to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in support of Operation Coronet Oak. The mission provides vital airlift capabilities throughout the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing board a C-130 on the flightline of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., prior to their departure April 2, 2011, for Muniz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico. The Airmen will be flying theater airlift missions in support of U.S. Southern Command across the Caribbean and Central and South America through Sept. 17 as part of Operation Coronet Oak. The Kentucky Air National Guard has been deploying regularly in support of Coronet Oak since it was based in Panama in the 1990s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing board a C-130 on the flightline of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., prior to their departure April 2, 2011, for Muniz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico. The Airmen will be flying theater airlift missions in support of U.S. Southern Command across the Caribbean and Central and South America through Sept. 17 as part of Operation Coronet Oak. The Kentucky Air National Guard has been deploying regularly in support of Coronet Oak since it was based in Panama in the 1990s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Nearly 50 members of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing deployed to Muñiz Air National Guard Base in San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 2 to support Operation Coronet Oak, a mission that provides vital airlift capabilities throughout the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility.

The Airmen, who departed aboard two Kentucky C-130 aircraft, will provide theater airlift services for U.S. military and government operations across the Caribbean and Central and South America, according to Lt. Col. Jude Beyerle, mission commander.

"We'll be supporting airlift for Southern Command wherever they need it," explained Beyerle, a navigator in the wing's 165th Airlift Squadron. "The primary mission is to provide a C-130 and aircrew on alert 24 hours a day for whatever kind of contingency might come up, whether that be a medical evacuation, humanitarian assistance or hurricane relief. But we'll also fly regular resupply and troop-transport missions around the region."

The deploying Airmen comprise the first rotation of nearly 300 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who will support Coronet Oak this year. Five more rotations will follow between now and Sept. 17, when the wing's role is scheduled to be handed off to another unit, said Lt. Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Operations Group.

Coronet Oak began in Panama in 1977 and is supported entirely by Guard and Reserve assets. Kentucky began flying the mission in the 1990s, after the wing converted from RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft to the C-130 Hercules, Colonel Gorter said.

"Past missions have varied from something as routine as rotating personnel out of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to more involved taskings, like a 10-day mission to Santiago, Chile, to provide assistance following an earthquake there," he said. "Much of the flying is done in the mountainous terrain of South America, requiring a unique skill set from our aircrew members."

Coronet Oak marks the second major airlift deployment for members of the Kentucky Air Guard in the past six months. The 123rd Airlift Wing completed a deployment to Afghanistan in January.