123rd Airlift Wing earns 16th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

  • Honor recognizes achievements from 2011 to 2013

  • Unit now the most decorated airlift wing in the Air National Guard

By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson (right), command chief master sergeant for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, holds the wing guidon during an award ceremony at Louisville Male High School in Louisville, Ky., July 13, 2014, as Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini (left), Kentucky’s adjutant general, and Col. Barry Gorter, wing commander, applaud. The ceremony was held to present the wing with its 16th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joshua Horton)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 123rd Airlift received its 16th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award during a ceremony here yesterday, continuing a long tradition of excellence that has made it the most decorated airlift wing in the Air National Guard.

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Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, pins a streamer representing the unit’s 16th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award to the wing guidon during a ceremony at Louisville Male High School in Louisville, Ky., on July 13, 2014. The wing is one of the most decorated units in the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joshua Horton)

The achievement is nearly unprecedented in the history of the entire U.S. Air Force, noted Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky’s adjutant general, who observed that only a handful of Air Force units of any kind have earned 16 AFOUAs.

“This is indeed a very historic day,” Tonini told a crowd of more than 1,000 Kentucky Air National Guardsmen who attended the ceremony at Louisville Male High School. “It’s a great day to say to other folks wherever you live that you’re a member of the very best airlift unit in the United States Air Force.

“As adjutant general, I’ve had the honor of visiting you in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve witnessed how tough and efficient you are at doing your jobs. I’ve seen for myself the professionalism and pride of the men and women of this unit, both here at home and overseas. From Bagram to Kyrgyrzstan, Quito to Haiti and even in places like Antarctica, you are absolutely outstanding in every way.

“You absolutely deserve this recognition, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Tonini then presented Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, with a streamer representing the latest honor. Gorter pinned the red-white-and-blue ribbon to the wing’s guidon as audience members clapped loudly.

The 123rd Airlift Wing received its 16th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious service from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2013, according to the award citation. During this time, the wing engaged in a full spectrum of missions at home and abroad, deploying 611 Airmen to 29 locations in 13 countries for an aggregate total of 46,150 days.

Among these deployments, the wing’s Airmen set records for C-130 mission-capable and departure-reliability rates while airlifting 4,900 tons of cargo and 12,300 troops across U.S. Central Command as the lead unit at an expeditionary airlift squadron based in the Persian Gulf.

The wing also facilitated the short-notice movement of a Patriot Missile Battery and 300 soldiers to Turkey in response to the Syrian Civil War, and supported numerous special operations missions to kill or capture the most wanted enemies of the United States.

Thirty of the wing’s special operations Airmen received high-level commendations during the award period for coordinating more than 3,800 combat missions and hundreds of air-to-ground attacks that resulted in more than 1,750 enemy killed in action.

The wing also deployed 25 Airmen to Afghanistan in support of Agriculture Development Teams 3, 4 and 5, fostering the creation of a sustainable agriculture economy and promoting business opportunities through a women’s-empowerment initiative. One project boosted income for 1,400 Afghan raisin vineyards by 50 percent in less than 6 months.

The 123rd Airlift Wing has one of the most diverse mission sets in the Air Force, Tonini said. In addition to its primary mission of providing C-130 intra-theater airlift, the unit also has one of only two full-spectrum special tactics squadrons in the Air National Guard and the Air Guard’s only Contingency Response Group.

The special tactics unit includes parachute-jump qualified emergency medical technicians who specialize in personnel recovery, and combat controllers who deploy undetected into hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.

The Contingency Response Group was created as a self-sufficient unit that deploys to inoperative airfields to establish air cargo operations during times of crisis or military contingency, enabling the rapid influx of troops, cargo and disaster-relief supplies.

The wing’s other unique mission sets include an Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight; a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package; and two Critical Care Air Transport Teams that specialize in providing medial care for critically injured servicemembers who must be transported aboard military aircraft en route to more capable medical treatment facilities.

“We are the single most diverse airlift wing in the Air Force,” Tonini noted. “Some airlift wings can boast that they have one of those additional missions. A couple might even be able to say they have two. But nobody can come close to saying that they have all five.”

The 123rd Airlift Wing received its first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in 1970.

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