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Wing marks historic milestone in support of war effort

Capt. Ross Farling, a C-130 pilot in the 123rd Airlift Wing, hugs his daughters during an emotional homecoming ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., July 4, 2015. Farling was among 39 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who were returning from a deployment to the Persian Gulf region, where they've been supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel since February. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Capt. Ross Farling, a C-130 pilot in the 123rd Airlift Wing, hugs his daughters during an emotional homecoming ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., July 4, 2015. Farling was among 39 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who were returning from a deployment to the Persian Gulf region, where they've been supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel for four months. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The 123rd Airlift Wing observed a historic milestone March 24 when Staff Sgt. Patrick Murray retuned from a deployment to Southwest Asia, where he was supporting Operations Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve, the counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan and the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Murray's return marks the first time since October 2001 that the wing has had no personnel deployed to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes the Middle East and Northern Africa.

During the past 14 years, the wing has deployed its Airmen to more than 45 countries in support of CENTCOM and homeland security operations, totaling more than 393,000 days of active-duty service.

"I am extremely proud of the dedication of our Airmen to answer the nation's call any time they're needed, anywhere in the world," said Col. Ken Dale, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, the Kentucky Air National Guard's primary operations unit. "No unit in the United States Air Force has been more engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the homeland security mission than the 123rd Airlift Wing."

Dale emphasized that the new milestone represents more of a temporary pause in deployments than an indication that they will stop completely.

"We anticipate further deployments to the U.S. Central Command AOR in the future, especially from the members of our Special Tactics Squadron, who maintain a constant state of readiness for short-notice contingencies of all kinds," he said.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 637 members of the Kentucky Air Guard were placed on active duty for varying lengths of time in support of real-world missions around the world. These deployments included missions to support homeland defense (Operation Noble Eagle), the war on terrorism abroad (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the war in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom). Of these 637 Kentucky Airmen, 454 deployed overseas for U.S. military operations in dozens of countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Senegal, Serbia and the Ukraine. Most of these federalized troops were taken off active duty in early 2004, but the wing continued to deploy troops around the world as needed to meet operational requirements.

In 2006, for example, 560 Kentucky Air Guard troops deployed to such location as Afghanistan, Iraq, CuraƧao, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Antarctica. In 2007, more than 210 wing members deployed to Afghanistan to fly airlift missions that delivered thousands of tons of equipment and supplies to forward-deployed troops who were engaged with the enemy. And nearly 300 Kentucky Air Guardsmen returned to Afghanistan in 2009 for the same mission, transporting 20,000 troops and 6,000 tons of cargo across the theater of operations during a two-month deployment.

More recently, about 160 Kentucky Airmen broke airlift records when they airdropped or transported a record amount of cargo and personnel in support of Operation Enduring Freedom while deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from October 2010 to January 2011. The unit set records again in 2012 when 100 Airmen deployed the Persian Gulf, flying 1,400 missions in four months to airlift 5,300 tons of cargo and 15,000 passengers. It returned to the region last year, flying 625 combat airlift sorties in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom's Sentinel.