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Historic inspection supports security strategy

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The 123rd Airlift Wing will make history next May when it becomes the first Air National Guard unit to undergo an Operational Readiness Inspection evaluated in response to a simulated terrorist attack in the United States.

The novel homeland-defense scenario differs markedly from typical ORIs, which require wings to deploy to a simulated overseas location and fight a conventional military enemy, said Col. Greg Nelson, commander of  the 123rd Airlift Wing.

The new approach, being implemented for Kentucky on a trial basis, makes sense because it reflects the military realities of a post-9/11 world in which homeland defense has taken center stage -- particularly for members of the Air National Guard.

"I believe our primary mission as Kentucky Guardsmen is defense of the homeland," Colonel Nelson said. "Of course, we always need to be ready to fight overseas in support of our allies and the destruction of our enemies abroad. But we better be prepared to fight and excel at that same mission in our own back yard. Nobody in the entire Air Force or Air National Guard has even been evaluated on our homeland-defense mission."

Colonel Nelson noted that the concept of a homeland-defense ORI originated with officials at the 123rd Airlift Wing, who proposed it to the Air Mobility Command Inspector General.

The IG agreed about the scenario's worth because it directly supports national security strategy.

"Our country's National Security Strategy comes from the president, and the No. 1 priority is defense of the homeland," Colonel Nelson said. "Our National Defense Strategy comes from the Secretary of Defense, based on the National Security Strategy, and its No. 1 priority is defense of the homeland. Finally, our National Military Strategy comes from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in support of the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States. Its No. 1 priority also is defense of the homeland.

"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 do it as a test. If they validate this concept -- if it fills all their squares as a valid wartime-tasked mission -- they may look at doing this same kind of ORI for other Guard units."

Kentucky's 2010 ORI is expected to take place at multiple sites, with the 123rd Airlift Wing slated to deploy about 400 Airmen and three C-130 aircraft.

The wing's support elements -- security forces, medical care, civil engineering, logistics, communications, public affairs and more -- will be evaluated alongside Kentucky's airlift, aircraft maintenance, contingency response and command-and-control functions.

Two other units will participate in the ORI as full partners with the 123rd Airlift Wing, bringing the total number of deployed Airmen to about 800, Colonel Nelson said.

They include approximately 250 aircrew members and maintenance troops from the 317th Airlift Group, an active-duty C-130 unit from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The 317th will contribute nine Hercules aircraft.

The 70th Aerial Port Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit from Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., will make up the remainder of the deployed forces, rounding out what Colonel Nelson called a "true Total Force ORI."

"We're really leaning forward here," he said. "9/11 changed everything, and I believe this new approach to inspections will give us a better road map for dealing with the current realities of homeland defense."