KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. --
The Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing scored another entry in the history books May 16-23 when it successfully completed the Air Force's first-ever homeland-defense Operational Readiness Inspection.
"For the very first time, the U.S. Air Force has validated a wing's wartime capabilities to defend the homeland by fighting an enemy right here on U.S. soil," said Col. Greg Nelson, wing commander. "That represents a major shift in the way the Air Force evaluates unit readiness, because it puts the focus in our own backyard, rather than a simulated overseas location where these evaluations are usually staged.
"I'm pleased to say that the 123rd Airlift Wing passed this new test with flying colors. We are ready to perform our mission any time, anywhere, whether it be in support of our allies abroad or here at home in defense of the United Sates of America."
The wing received an overall grade of "excellent" for the inspection, which tested its ability to mobilize personnel and equipment, fly to a remote site, operate in a hostile stateside environment, complete multiple airlift sorties, defend against enemy attacks, and redeploy back home -- all while inspectors evaluated every phase of the operation.
The inspection results were announced by the Air Mobility Command Inspector General during a May 25 out-brief in the Base Annex.
The ORI was unusually challenging, Colonel Nelson told a crowd of more than 400 wing members who gathered for the out-brief, because of extreme weather conditions and several eleventh-hour changes mandated by the non-availability of infrastructure.
"We didn't flinch, we didn't whine, we didn't push back to any challenge, from changes in taskings, to changes in locations to changes in facilities at the last minute," he said. "(With temperatures hovering near 100 degrees), it also was the hottest ORI the team chief had even seen.
"But we maintained a great attitude, we operated safely, and we performed our mission with a level of excellence that makes me proud. This is our passion. We come from the Minutemen, when this nation was formed. We pick up arms, and we protect our neighbors and our families right here in the United States.
"There's a reason we just received our 14th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, and it's because we are an outstanding wing. This ORI was equally outstanding because the IG evaluated how we provide our capabilities in the United States.
"So write this down in your diaries: You are the first wing to be wartime-validated in support of the security and defense of the United States of America. That's huge.
"I couldn't be more proud of the 123rd Airlift Wing, because you gave it your all."
Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, was equally pleased by the inspection results.
"(Air Mobility Command) didn't need to grade this unit for me to know about its high level of excellence," General Tonini told the audience. "For 41 years, I've known of the excellence of the Kentucky Air National Guard. But this has got to be one of the best days I've had in the 41-plus years I've been in this uniform. I want to thank each and every one of you for what you've done. You did it like the great Airmen that you are."
The wing's ORI scenario required more than 300 Kentucky Air Guardsmen to establish operations at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., where they merged with about 175 troops from two other units to form the notional 104th Air Expeditionary Wing.
Those additional units were the active-duty Air Force's 317th Airlift Group from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and the Air Force Reserve's 70th Aerial Port Squadron from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.
With the 123rd serving as the lead unit, all three organizations worked seamlessly together to launch multiple theater airlift sorties across the Gulf Coast region, supporting U.S. Northern Command missions and civil authorities while defending against multiple attacks by well-organized terrorists.
The homeland-defense scenario differed markedly from those of traditional ORIs, which task units to deploy to simulated overseas locations and fight conventional military forces, Colonel Nelson said.
The new approach, implemented by Air Mobility Command for the first time here, represents a fundamental shift in thinking that more accurately reflects the military realities of a post-9/11 world in which homeland defense has taken center stage, he said.
Colonel Nelson noted that the idea for a homeland security/homeland defense ORI originated at the Kentucky Air Guard, whose leaders asked AMC to consider using the alternate approach to evaluate the 123rd.
"Almost everything that an airlift wing would do in support of a real-world homeland security/homeland defense mission -- whether it be response to a terrorist attack on U.S. soil or humanitarian aid following a hurricane -- would be in support of a lead civilian agency at the federal, state or local level. As a result, the overall command and control aspects are completely different from those of an overseas operation.
"So we took our plan to the IG and said, 'You need to evaluate us on this.' They thought our approach had a lot of merit and agreed to implement it on a trial basis. A lot of changes were required to make this approach work, but the IG developed new scenarios to test the interoperability of DOD, federal, state and local agencies in defense of the homeland. As a result, our ORI provided a unique opportunity to validate how we provide tactical airlift during an emergency in the United States.
"Ultimately, the inspection process is all about validating readiness, and we must be ready to perform our mission wherever it takes us. I think the ORI results speak for themselves: The 123rd is clearly ready to perform its mission -- any time, anywhere."
The 123rd Airlift Wing is no stranger to historic accomplishments, officials said. It is one of the most decorated wings in the U.S. Air Force, with 14 Outstanding Unit Awards. No other Air Guard unit has won more.
"The 123rd Airlift Wing stands ready!" Colonel Nelson said.
Click here to view a video of the 123rd Airlift Wing's historic ORI at the DVIDS Web site