Kentucky General visits Kentucky Servicemembers in Kyrgyzstan

Map of KyrgyzstanBISCKEK, Kyrgyzstan — When Major General Edward Tonini, the Adjutant General of Kentucky, makes a commitment to his Soldiers and Airmen that he’ll make every attempt to visit them while they are deployed, he takes that promise very seriously.  His visit with the 26 members of the 123rd Security Forces Squadron presented some very challenging issues.

The Adjutant General, along with Colonel Tom Barrier and CW-5 Delynn Gibson, flew from Kentucky via a KYNG C-12 aircraft to Jackson, Miss. From there, the Kentucky Guard contingency boarded an Airforce C-17 jetliner — “The Spirit of the Purple Heart” — on its weekly rotator flight to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom mission. On this occasion the Mississippi Air National Guard aircraft flew its 1 millionth OEF mission mile, stopping first at Andrews AFB before flying across the Atlantic Ocean for an 8-1/2 hour flight to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

At Ramstein the group receive several briefings relating to the possible role of Kentucky’s Contingency Response Group in the EuroCom and Africom AOR in the future.

After a day’s briefings and office calls, the Kentucky travelers were transported to Frankfurt International Airport for a flight to Bisckek, Kyrgyzstan with a connection in Istanbul, Turkey.  Due of bad weather in Europe,  the flight’s arrival in Istanbul was delayed more than three and a half hours causing them to miss the Manus connection.  Since only two flights go to Bisckek each day — one a connection thru Moscow and one direct — this resulted in a 24 hour delay.

The travelers, now minus Chief Gibson who took ill in Germany and was unable to fly, were afforded the opportunity to remain overnight in Istanbul; one of the world’s most historic cities.  The city of 17 million is steeped in the history of civilization located at the point where two continents – Europe and Asia come within about two miles of touching one another.  Since thousands of years Before Christ (B.C.), Istanbul has been one of the world’s centers of trade and commerce.  General Tonini and Col. Barrier took the time prior to their evening flight to explore this fascinating culture.

The flight to Bisckek crossed four time zones to the east into Kyrgyzstan, a nation which split away from the Soviet Union after it breakup in 1991. During the Soviet’s war in Afghanistan, combat sorties were launched from Manus Air Base…and the Russian influence is everywhere.  Many of the buildings currently being used by Coalition Forces were once used by the Soviets.

The flight from Istanbul arrived at about 0500 local.  Today the base is the primary transit facility for all forces into and out if Afghanistan.  After a few merciful hours of rest, Tonini and Barrier received briefings on the operations at the facility and the mission of the Security Forces Group.  The group is made up of Airmen from the active component, the AF Reserve and the majority from ANG units in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi.  The Special Forces Group is 168 strong.  Tonini was able to have dinner with most of the Kentucky servicemembers the day of arrival.  Since most Kentuckians work the night shift, the 5 hour period after dinner was used visiting each of their post where the Kentuckians were able to spend one-on-one time with the TAG discussing their responsibilities and rolls on the mission. The majority of the Kentucky Airmen proved to be University of Kentucky basketball fans — so it was only appropriate to arrange a breakfast at the end of the night shift — just in time to watch a live feed of the undefeated UK basketball game against Florida.  The timing was perfect and the Cats didn’t disappoint, winning the game by 12 points.  The next day was filled visiting Kentucky Airmen at their posts while working the day shift.

“It’s clear  that our Airmen are doing a spectacular job using some of the worlds highest tech equipment, including biometric systems that have not made its way into the CONUS Air Force as yet, ” Tonini said. “The mission these Servicemembers are performing is extremely important in the success of the US and coalition effort in Afghanistan.”

While personnel all transit via air, some convoys are generated from Manus — a 3,400 mile trek across trecherous mountains roads.  Manus is also the Operation’s point of origin for two  C-135 squadrons tankers which allow continuous air operations by fighters and bombers in the theater.

“It was a wonderful visit with the 123rd Airmen,” Tonini said.  The following morning at 0500, Tonini ended the Manus visit and began the next phase of the visit, which takes them to Pristina, Kosovo to visit the Kentucky Blackhawk units deployed there.

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