By Capt. Dale Greer, Wing Public Affairs Officer
/ Published August 09, 2008
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- More than 100 Kentucky Air Guardsmen gathered in the Base Annex April 19 to witness the deactivation of the 123rd Aerial Port Squadron, a once-crucial unit established nearly 20 years ago to provide essential cargo services when the KyANG mission transitioned from reconnaissance to airlift in the late 1980s.
The unit was eliminated at the direction of the National Guard Bureau as part of a nationwide plan to reallocate resources, officials said. Aerial port squadrons in other states also are being deactivated.
Most of the Kentucky squadron's expertise will be transferred to other duty sections on base, including the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron and the new 123rd Contingency Response Group, said Col. Mark Kraus, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
The contingency response group was formed last year to provide a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying within a 400-mile radius of Louisville for the purpose of establishing emergency air bases.
Speaking to a crowd of current and retired wing members, Colonel Kraus detailed the aerial port squadron's tremendous impact on the success of the Kentucky Air Guard through the years.
"I could simply say that the 123rd Aerial Port Squadron has, from its very beginning, left an indelible mark on the wing -- and that would be truthful," he said. "But I can't leave it there. Because for 20 years, you've had your shoulder to the wheel, making the mission happen with extraordinary dedication and perseverance.
"Beyond supporting the flying mission, you've also been a force multiplier for every other program, project or special event on the base. In my four years as your commander, I've not yet found the depth of your talent or the limit of your willingness to roll up your sleeves and go to work.
"And you've done it with whatever adversity came with the job. Adversity, as author William Arthur Ward said, causes some men to break, and others to break records. Thankfully, with great talent, leadership and dedication, you've always fused together as a team to break records."
Colonel Kraus noted that the unit played an essential role in the wing's ability to conduct the training it needed to learn the airlift mission from scratch, starting in 1989 when the Kentucky Air Guard began its radical conversion from RF-4C Phantom IIs to C-130s.
"As I thought back to a time when we were all learning the airlift mission, it didn't take long for me to realize how heavily dependent we were in the flying business on the aerial port in order to be able to conduct our flying training, do unit movements and support combat readiness for the wing," he said.
"Aircrews can't fulfill their actual airdrop requirements unless someone builds the airdrop loads, unless someone goes to the drop zone to retrieve those loads, unless someone maintains the forklifts and the trucks and the loaders and the parachutes.
"You may ask yourself: How did that really impact the readiness of the wing? Over the past 20 years, we have no doubt airdropped literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of concrete -- simulated supplies -- into the Atterbury (Indiana) drop zone. And we've put enough sand bags into Fort Knox, at 15 pounds apiece, to make for a very nice beach at Muldraugh Hill.
"I can tell you that this practice, in turn, meant the difference between success and failure in every airlift mission we've launched, on every continent we've landed on, all around the globe."
Those missions, Colonel Kraus noted, include last year's deployment to Afghanistan, where Kentucky aircrews delivered thousands of tons of equipment and supplies to forward-deployed U.S. troops who were in contact with the enemy.
"Time and time again, those loads found the target in the most challenging environment we've ever faced," he said. "Our crews could do that because of the opportunities you gave them to practice, by the hours that you spent rigging the loads and the nights that your teams rolled through the gates -- after midnight sometimes -- coming back from the drop zone.
"Your efforts all these years, day and day out, saved American lives in Tora Bora, just as if you had personally kissed every fuel, ammo, food and ammunition pallet that rolled over the ramp into the Afghan darkness and into the arms of our brothers in combat."
Colonel Kraus also praised the men and women of the 123rd Aerial Port Squadron for their can-do spirit and involvement across a range of base projects.
"Through the years, no matter the task at hand, no matter how long the hours or how little the payoff," he noted, "one thing I never heard an aerial porter say was, 'That's not my job.'
"I grew accustomed to seeing you involved in every project on base, making it happen from the start and being there at the end. Your enthusiasm, positive attitude and professionalism are highly regarded across the wing, and I know that those personal attributes will not furl with the aerial port guide-on -- because I know it's the people and not the unit designation that make the unit go.
"As you settle into your new unit assignments, know that you take with you the gratitude of the entire wing and my heartfelt thanks for your contributions to this organization, past, present and future."
Col. William Ketterer, commander of the 123rd Mission Support Group, and Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson, the squadron's superintendent, also had words of encouragement for unit members who are moving on to new assignments.
"This unit will turn the page and keep rolling with the changes," Colonel Ketterer said. "There is a culture that's been instilled in every member of this unit, and it comes from leadership. I've never asked for anything that you guys didn't deliver, and that speaks loads about you as individuals and as a group.
"One thing that is good about (the deactivation) is that I now have a bunch of positive attitudes that I can infuse in other areas. We're going to have opportunities for everyone to grow."
Chief Dawson noted that aerial porters are known for their tenacity, adding: "We will carry that with us as we branch out to different areas on the base. You either have to lead a 'porter, follow a 'porter or get out of the porter's way."
Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Downs Jr., the wing's command chief master sergeant and a former aerial port superintendent, recalled highlights from the unit's history, including its first months when staffing humbly consisted of four technicians and 98 traditional Guardsmen who possessed little more than 1-skill levels and good attitudes.
"Within about a year and a half, we were in Germany on our first annual tour," he said. "While we were there, we made some friends with (our counterparts) at Ramstein Air Base, which was a good thing, because within days of returning home, we had six people turn right around and go back to Germany for Desert Storm and Desert Shield."
The unit has had people on the road ever since, including deployments for Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle.
"After about three years in business," Chief Downs recalled, "we became known as the smartest and the best-trained aerial port in the best Air Force in the world.
"I've been proud to work with you, and I'll be proud from now on to say I was an aerial porter."
Lt. Col. Jeff Peters, the squadron's commander, closed the ceremony by thanking his troops for "teaching me a lot."
"I took over about 18 months ago as the squadron commander, and you've really contributed to my career," he said. "I just hope that in some small way I was able to contribute to your success.
"The future looks great. You've got everything you need to move forward ... and step into different responsibilities. We're going to lead the way."