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123rd completes Operational Readiness Exercise

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing arrive at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., on March 21, 2010, as they prepare to stand up operations with members from two other units, 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 Station, Fla. As part of an Operational Readiness Exercise, all three units formed the 104th Air Expeditionary Wing to provide theater airlift services in support of a simulated G8 Summit in New Orleans. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Dale Greer)

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing arrive at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., on March 21, 2010, as they prepare to stand up operations with members from two other units, 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 Station, Fla. As part of an Operational Readiness Exercise, all three units formed the 104th Air Expeditionary Wing to provide theater airlift services in support of a simulated G8 Summit in New Orleans. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Dale Greer)

Staff Sgt. Amber Spratt-Jones, 123rd Airlift Wing, takes cover from a simulated enemy attack after ducking into a "fortified" bunker March 24, 2010, during an Operational Readiness Exercise at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss. Sergeant Jones, a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard, was among several members from her Wing and two other Air Force units to participate in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Staff Sgt. Amber Spratt-Jones, 123rd Airlift Wing, takes cover from a simulated enemy attack after ducking into a "fortified" bunker March 24, 2010, during an Operational Readiness Exercise at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss. Sergeant Jones, a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard, was among several members from her Wing and two other Air Force units to participate in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Airmen from the notional 104th Air Expeditionary Wing render simulated self-aid and buddy care to a wounded troop April 24, 2010 following an enemy attack during the Operational Readiness Exercise at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Airmen from the notional 104th Air Expeditionary Wing render simulated self-aid and buddy care to a wounded troop April 24, 2010 following an enemy attack during the Operational Readiness Exercise at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard fill sandbags at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., on March 21, 2010. The Guard members and Airmen from two other Air Force units provided theater airlift services in support of a simulated G8 Summit in New Orleans. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard fill sandbags at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., on March 21, 2010. The Guard members and Airmen from two other Air Force units provided theater airlift services in support of a simulated G8 Summit in New Orleans. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

GULFPORT, Miss. -- The 123rd Airlift Wing and two other Air Force units completed their final training exercise here March 20-26 in preparation for a historic Operational Readiness Inspection that will, for the first time ever, test a deployed wing's effectiveness in a homeland-security/homeland-defense environment.

That upcoming Air Mobility Command ORI, also scheduled to take place in Gulfport, is now just three weeks away, said Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, which is serving as the lead unit for the inspection.

Last month's training deployment -- called an Operational Readiness Exercise, or ORE -- saw more than 180 members of the 123rd Airlift Wing demonstrate their ability to mobilize, fly to a remote site, operate in a hostile stateside environment and re-deploy back home as inspectors evaluated every phase of the operation.

The Kentucky Air Guardsmen were augmented by 16 troops from the Air Force Reserve's 70th Aerial Port Squadron, which provided aerial port capabilities during the exercise; and more than 160 Airmen from the active-duty Air Force's 317th Airlift Group, which provided aviation assets and C-130 aircraft.

The 70th Aerial Port Squadron is based at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., while the 317th Airlift Group is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The 123rd Airlift Wing is headquartered in Louisville, Ky.

Together, the three units formed the notional 104th Air Expeditionary Wing, whose assignment during the ORE was to provide theater airlift to civil authorities in support of a simulated G8 summit in New Orleans. While deployed, the 104th AEW also had to defend against violent attacks by multiple unknown terrorists.

All three units will fill the same rolls again when they return here May 15-22 for the ORI, said Colonel Nelson, who praised the manner in which Airmen from each of the Air Force components interoperated during the ORE.

"It was a pretty seamless Total Force experience, and we all worked very well together," he said. "The 317th Airlift Group and the 70th Aerial Port Squadron are good people who are combat-tested, just like the Airmen of the 123rd Airlift Wing."

Nelson also was pleased with the wing's overall effectiveness, noting that the combined unit "performed well despite being put through the mill by the exercise evaluation team."

"We successfully survived multiple attacks and continued to operate throughout, flying several airlift missions while simultaneously providing command, control, communications and base security and support functions."

Looking ahead to the ORI, the wing will focus on a select few areas identified for improvement, such as chemical-warfare defense skills.

"One area we can improve on is in the performance of 'buddy checks' when we don our chemical defense gear," Colonel Nelson said. "Our Readiness folks have done an outstanding job training us.

"Now we need to demonstrate what we know and make sure we help each other survive and continue to fight."

In the final days leading up to the inspection, Colonel Nelson encouraged all participants to "fine-tune their responses to specific wartime tasks and read their Airman's Manuals."

"Everyone also should be checking their training bags to ensure they have a full complement of gear; ensuring that chemical suits are marked 'Training Use Only;' and inspecting their gas masks for serviceability, cleanliness and proper fit during extended wear."

The just-completed ORE and the upcoming ORI both feature novel homeland-defense scenarios that differ markedly from typical readiness inspections. Standard ORIs have always required wings to deploy to simulated overseas locations and fight a conventional military enemy, Colonel Nelson noted.

The new approach, which is being implemented here by the Air Mobility Command Inspector General on a trial basis for the first time, was proposed by leaders of the 123rd Airlift Wing several months ago. According to Colonel Nelson, it 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.

"Our actions during the ORE and ORI are aimed at assisting federal, state and local agencies in response to hostilities or attacks against U.S. citizens; defending national sovereignty; and maintaining a regional response capability here in the United States," he explained. "Those operations demonstrate the interoperability and capabilities of DOD, federal, state and local agencies, as well as our nation's commitment to defend the homeland.

"The overall command and control aspects are completely different from those of an overseas operation. Everything we do in the United States is performed in support of a lead civilian authority.

"Because of that, our ORI will be a unique opportunity for us to validate how we provide tactical airlift during an emergency in the United States.

"The Air Mobility Command Inspector General agreed to our Homeland Security/Homeland Defense ORI as a test. We have worked closely with them in developing the scenario and unique aspects of our inspection.

"I know we will be successful, and I believe the IG will consider this inspection scenario for other units in the future.

"Ultimately, the inspection process is all about validating readiness, and we must be ready to perform our mission wherever it takes us, at home or abroad."

As the Kentucky Air National Guard makes final preparations for the ORI, Colonel Nelson also offered some last words of advice.

"If everyone maintains a good attitude, performs their wartime missions as they've been taught, fights hard against the scenario and the enemy  -- and not the IG -- we will have an outstanding ORI."