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Kentucky Air Guardsmen return from Haiti relief mission

Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, welcomes home Staff Sgt. Brian Leach on Feb. 26 at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Sergeant Leach, of the 123rd Contingency Response Group, was returning from a five-week deployment to the Dominican Republic where he and about 45 other Kentucky Guardsmen were operating an air hub to distribute relief supplies for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Philip Speck/Released)

Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, welcomes home Staff Sgt. Brian Leach on Feb. 26 at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Sergeant Leach, of the 123rd Contingency Response Group, was returning from a five-week deployment to the Dominican Republic where he and about 44 other Kentucky Guardsmen were operating an air hub to distribute relief supplies for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Philip Speck)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Skeens of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group is welcomed home by his family Feb. 26 at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Sergeant Skeens was returning from a five-week deployment to the Dominican Republic where he and about 45 other Kentucky Guardsmen were operating an air hub to distribute relief supplies for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Philip Speck/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Skeens of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group is welcomed home by his family Feb. 26 at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Sergeant Skeens was returning from a five-week deployment to the Dominican Republic where he and about 44 other Kentucky Guardsmen were operating an air hub to distribute relief supplies for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Philip Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard who have been in the Caribbean for the past five weeks as part of Haitian earthquake relief efforts began returning home today after orchestrating the delivery of more than 640 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft carrying 17 Airmen and support equipment arrived here around noon to a welcoming crowd of family members, friends and co-workers. The Airmen were among more than 45 Kentucky troops from the Louisville-based 123rd Contingency Response Group who deployed to Barahona, Dominican Republic, on Jan. 22 to establish an air cargo hub at a seldom-used commercial airport.

The group's members were ready to begin accepting inbound aircraft within two hours of arrival in the Dominican Republic, said Lt. Col. David Mounkes, mission commander. From that point forward, the Kentucky Airmen offloaded more than 60 inbound aircraft and prepared over 640 tons of food, water and medicine for transport into Haiti aboard commercial trucks.

"These Kentucky Air National Guardsman richly deserve the national praise and recognition they've received for their efforts supporting Haiti," said Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini. "We're glad they've all returned home safe and sound."

One of the group's more remarkable accomplishments was the speed with which the Kentucky Airmen offloaded cargo from inbound aircraft, Colonel Mounkes said. This rapid offloading allowed cargo planes to depart not long after landing, thus opening space on the crowded tarmac for more inbound aircraft to arrive with supplies.

In most cases, aircraft were on the ground for such a short period of time that they didn't even shut down their engines, he said. The Kentucky troops offloaded one C-130 Hercules transport in just 4 1/2 minutes.

Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing -- parent unit of the 123rd Contingency Response Group -- expressed his appreciation to the families and employers of the Airmen for their support during the mission. Many of the deployed troops are part-time Guardsmen who hold full-time civilian jobs and must take time away from work when called to duty.

"We'd like to thank all the families and employers of our Airmen, because we are the Kentucky Air National Guard, and we are a volunteer force," Colonel Nelson said. "Without the generous support of our families and the employers in the area, we couldn't do our jobs."

The 123rd CRG is designed to be a early responder in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other major emergency anywhere within a 400-mile radius of Louisville. The unit also is capable of supporting military contingency operations worldwide.

Described as an "airbase in a box," the 123rd Contingency Response Group has all the personnel, training and equipment needed to deploy to a remote site, open a runway and establish airfield operations so that aid or troops can begin to flow into affected areas.

Unit members' training, experience and equipment -- including immediate access to the Kentucky Air Guard's C-130 aircraft -- mean they can rapidly deploy in any contingency situation to quickly establish initial operating capabilities for humanitarian or military airlift.

It is one of only 10 CRGs in the entire Air Force and the only fully operational CRG in the Air National Guard.

The remainder of the deployed Kentucky forces are expected to return home by the end of next week.