Kentucky Air Guard completes Ebola-response mission in Senegal

  • Published
  • By Maj. Dale Greer
  • JTF-PO Senegal Public Affairs
Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group transferred control of a humanitarian cargo hub to replacement forces here today, successfully completing their support of an Ebola-response mission that has processed more than 750 tons of relief supplies for airlift into Liberia.

While the Kentucky unit's role is winding down as its members prepare to redeploy to the United States, the humanitarian cargo operation will continue at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport under the direction of the new troops -- more than 70 Airmen assigned to the 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron.

"As one of the first Air Force assets in theater, the 123rd Contingency Response Group's mission was to open an airfield for military cargo operations, establish an Aerial Port of Debarkation, and hand off the operation to follow-on forces within 60 days," explained Col. David Mounkes, commander of the 123rd. "We've now completed that mission, and the 787th is ready to take over. I know they will do a superb job."

Lt. Col. Michael Brock, commander of the 787th, expressed his gratitude to the men and women of the Kentucky Air Guard for their "outstanding stewardship" of the aerial port from its inception.

"I'd like to express our sincere thanks to the 123rd CRG for shaping the environment for future success," Brock said. "Due to their exceptional professionalism, our Airmen are fully prepared to carry on this mission without missing a beat, delivering equipment and supplies to Liberia that are essential for combating an Ebola outbreak that has claimed over 5,000 lives."

Mounkes said he was proud of his forces, which include more than 70 Air Guardsmen from Louisville, Kentucky, and seven active-duty Airmen from Travis Air Force Base, California, and Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Those Airmen arrived in Senegal Oct. 4 to find a bare-base facility consisting of little more than two empty buildings and a vacant lot situated next to an airport taxiway. From that, the Airmen built a fully operational aerial port in less than 24 hours, supplying their own satellite-based voice and data communications, electric power generation, airfield command-and-control capability, all-terrain forklifts, specialized cargo-handling equipment and aircraft maintenance assets.

"I could not be more pleased with what our Airmen accomplished here in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment," Mounkes said. "They hit the ground running and never let up, getting critically important humanitarian cargo and troop-support equipment downrange to help fight the worst Ebola outbreak in history."

That cargo, which arrived in Senegal aboard civilian 747s and U.S. Air Force C-17 and KC-10 cargo aircraft, included items like tents, latex gloves, human blood, stretchers, electric generators, and food and water. Airmen from the 123rd worked around-the-clock to offload cargo as it arrived, prioritize it for forward movement, and upload it to U.S. Air Force C-130s for final delivery in Liberia.

Since beginning operations in Senegal, the Kentucky Airmen have coordinated the movements of 188 in-bound and out-bound aircraft, processed 809 passengers for airlift and handled 754.9 tons of cargo, Mounkes said.

"The U.S Government's response to this outbreak is a massive commitment of resources from multiple federal agencies, all under the direction of the U.S. Agency for International Development," Mounkes noted. "The Department of Defense alone has committed to deploying nearly 4,000 forces to build multiple Ebola treatment facilities in Liberia, staff medical laboratories and train local health-care workers.

"That kind of response requires a tremendous level of logistical support, and I'm proud to say that our Airmen played a central role in establishing the air bridge needed to provide it."

Mounkes also expressed his appreciation to the people and government of Senegal for their support throughout the deployment.

"The Senegalese Military and the High Airport Authority continue to be essential partners in this effort, and their contributions have been fundamental to the success of the mission in every way," he said.

For many of the deployed Kentucky Air Guardsmen, Operation United Assistance has been one of the high points of their careers.

"It's really satisfying to know that all the cargo we sent to Liberia is going to help people who need it," said Capt. Matt Skeens, the 123rd's logistics readiness officer. "It's been a lot of hard work, but it's absolutely worth it when you know you're making a direct impact on people's lives. This mission has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done."

Master Sgt. Charles Wilding agreed.

"I think the entire CRG has done astounding things here," said Wilding, non-commissioned officer in charge of aerial port operations. "Working with all the different entities, including the U.S. Army and the Defense Logistics Agency, has been a real pleasure. Everyone put forth maximum effort, and we all came together like a big family to deliver a lot of support downrange.

"This deployment has been, without a doubt, one of the best of my career. I will look back on this 20 years from now and be able tell people, 'We were there -- we helped make a positive difference in the world.'"