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Kentucky Airmen complete Coronet Oak mission

Master Sgt. Carl Shaffer of the 123rd Maintenance Squadron positions ground equipment to load onto a C-130 aircraft during the wing's successful airlift support of Southern Command operations. (Tech. Sgt. Diane Stinnett/KyANG)

Master Sgt. Carl Shaffer of the 123rd Maintenance Squadron positions ground equipment to load onto a C-130 aircraft during the wing's successful airlift support of Southern Command operations. (Tech. Sgt. Diane Stinnett/KyANG)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- More than 120 members of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing deployed to Muniz Air National Guard Base here this summer to support Operation Coronet Oak, a mission that provides vital airlift capabilities throughout the Southern Command Area of Responsibility.

By ensuring the readiness of aircraft and resupplying U.S. government and military operations in Central and South America, the Kentucky Airmen helped support important national interests, said mission commander Lt. Col. Rick Shelton, who also is commander of the Global Mobility Readiness Squadron in the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group.

"The most important mission we do is the alert bird," he said. "What that means is that we always have a plane that we can launch within three hours, 24/7, for medical emergencies and, if necessary, to get troops in."

According to Lt. Col. Jeff McQuillen, director of operations for Coronet Oak, the airlift mission began in Panama in 1977. It is supported entirely by Guard and Reserve assets and remains essential in maintaining U.S. capabilities in the region. Aircrews provide theater mobility, embassy support and airdrops.

"Kentucky's been outstanding," Colonel McQuillen said of the unit's performance. "I never have to say, 'Hey, you guys need to come and do the mission.' Everyone is willing to work as many hours without complaining to get the mission done. It's fun working with them. (They have a) good attitude which really makes everything happen."