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Kentucky Airmen deploy in support of Operation Coronet Oak

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing board a C-130 Hercules aircraft at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., July 6, 2013, for a deployment to Puerto Rico in support of Operation Coronet Oak. The mission provides theater airlift services for U.S. military and government operations across the Caribbean and Central and South America. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Joshua Horton)

Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing board a C-130 Hercules aircraft at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., July 6, 2013, for a deployment to Puerto Rico in support of Operation Coronet Oak. The mission provides theater airlift services for U.S. military and government operations across the Caribbean and Central and South America. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Joshua Horton)

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard receive a briefing at 123rd Airlift Wing, Louisville, Ky on July 6, 2013 overviewing the specifics of their deployment to the U.S. Southern Command.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Joshua Horton)

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard receive a briefing at 123rd Airlift Wing, Louisville, Ky on July 6, 2013 overviewing the specifics of their deployment to the U.S. Southern Command. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Joshua Horton)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Nearly 50 members of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing deployed to Puerto Rico on July 6 to support Operation Coronet Oak, a mission that provides airlift capabilities throughout the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility.

The Airmen, who departed aboard two Kentucky C-130 aircraft, will provide vital theater airlift services for U.S. military and government operations across the Caribbean and Central and South America, according to Lt. Col. James White, mission commander.

"Coronet Oak's main purpose is to support Southern Command, and the primary mission is the alert," explained White, a pilot in the wing's 165th Airlift Squadron. "A plane and crew are placed in 'Bravo Alert,' to respond to anything that happens. It could be an embassy evacuation, or something like the earthquake in Haiti."

The deploying Airmen comprise the first rotation of nearly 100 Kentucky Air Guardsmen who will support Coronet Oak this year. Another rotation will follow later this summer, after which the wing's role is scheduled to be handed off to another unit, White said.

"Kentucky began flying the mission in the 1989, after the wing converted from RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft to the C-130 Hercules," said Lt. Col. Ron Whelan, a navigator in the wing's 165th Airlift Squadron.

Coronet Oak is a year-round operation supported entirely by Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130 units.

"This is good experience for our aircrews flying in South America," White said, "because it's a totally different environment than (we have in the continental United States), with bigger mountains and language barriers. This will help newer guys build more experience for a deployment."