Kentucky Air Guard completes successful NATO exercises

Story by 2nd Lt. James W. Killen, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Hans, an aircraft commander with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, communicates with ground crews from the cockpit of his C-130 Hercules aircraft after returning from an airdrop mission in the Baltic region on Sept. 8, 2014, during Operation Saber Junction. The 123rd participated in the training exercise along with five other Air Guard units and troops from 17 NATO countries. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. James W. Killen)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY — Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing successfully completed two NATO training exercises here Sept. 10, moving more than 107 tons of cargo and 300 passengers aboard two Kentucky C-130 aircraft as part of Operations Saber Junction and Steadfast Javelin II.

The 123rd joined with five other Air Guard units to play a key role in the exercises, which were designed to enhance the security of Eastern Europe, according to Col. Robert E. Culcasi, a Delaware Air National Guardsman who served as commander of the Air Guard contingent.

“Ask any one of the Army folk, (and they’ll tell you) it is the Air National Guard that provided the aircraft in order to get this mission done,” Culcasi said. “If they did not have Air National Guard assets on station, they would not have been able to conduct the air drops or the follow-on land missions that were scheduled for the exercise.”

The 123rd completed 19 missions, flying NATO troops and cargo more than 23,000 miles while maintaining high aircraft capability rates, according to Lt. Col. Charles Hans, an aircraft commander and chief of training for Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Killen (right), a crew chief with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, performs a final debris check before a Kentucky C-130 Hercules takes off from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Sept. 5, 2014, carrying NATO paratroopers in support of Operation Saber Junction. The 123rd participated in the training exercise along with five other Air Guard units and troops from 17 NATO countries. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. James W. Killen)

“Our C-130Hs performed admirably under the quick-turn conditions and the minimum number of maintainers we brought,” Hans said. “That was a testament to our maintenance program and the dedication of our maintainers, who worked a 24-hour operation with a crew meant for 12-hour operations.”

The maintenance crew, composed of nine Airmen from the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, worked long hours over the course of the exercise to keep the planes flying, said Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Brown, the senior enlisted crewmember and loadmaster supervisor.

“Once again maintenance and operations came together to ensure this NATO exercise was a success,” he said. “With multiple units and countries participating, there were a lot of obstacles to overcome, but the dedication and professionalism of the 123rd Airlift Wing provided us a safe and successful exercise.”

In addition to the maintenance effort, aircrews from the 123rd performed at an exceptional level, according Lt. Col. Catherine Newell, aircraft commander for the 165th Airlift Squadron.

“This was a great experience for our aircrews, scaling up from our small, single-unit, local training formations to a multi-unit, international formation,” Newell said. “We had a number of aircrew members who had never participated in either the planning or execution of a mission this size, and it was gratifying to them to realize that they had all the tools they needed to succeed.”

Newell said the exercise was an outstanding opportunity for the Kentucky Air Guard because it added a healthy dose of realism to the unit’s routine training regimen.

“The 123rd flew large formations with other Guard units through four different countries and airdropped troops from three different nations on an unfamiliar drop-zone at night,” Newell said. “Everyone felt a fair amount of pressure given the international scope of the mission.”

Operations Saber Junction and Steadfast Javelin II were conducted as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a joint commitment of NATO allies to the security of Eastern Europe. The exercises were designed to prepare U.S. troops, NATO Allies and European security partners to conduct joint, offensive, defensive and stabilization operations, and to sustain cooperative efforts with partner nations.

The Kentucky Air Guard deployed more than 20 Airmen for the exercises, which began Aug. 31.

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