Kentucky Air Guard completes deployment to Poland in support of joint NATO readiness

Story by Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office

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U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Tristan Stonger, a C-130 pilot for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, talks with a Polish Air Force official at Powidz Air Base, Poland, Dec. 10, 2014, during a three-week deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The Kentucky Air Guard fielded two C-130 aircraft and 50 personnel to conduct joint training and focus on interoperability in support of NATO operations. (Courtesy Photo)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Members of the 123rd Airlift Wing recently completed a three-week bilateral training event at Powidz Air Base, Poland, that helped build stronger relations with a key NATO ally.

The wing deployed two C-130 aircraft and about 50 personnel to conduct training that focused on joint readiness and interoperability, said Lt. Col. Catherine Newell, a pilot for Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron and the deployment’s mission commander.

“We were there as much to help build a positive relationship between Poland and the U.S. as we were to fly,” Newell said. “We flew tactical routes and proficiency sorties for currency and proficiency, but there was a bonus in that we got to fly unfamiliar routes to new drop zones.”

The Kentucky aircrews worked daily with their Polish counterparts, interflying with Polish C-130s in a friendly airdrop and assault-landing competition as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The deployment, which ran from Dec. 1 to 24, also provided excellent training opportunities for younger crewmembers to work in non-U.S. airspace with foreign controllers.

“When I was a new copilot, we did a lot of international flying, but these days it is not routine,” Newell noted.

The interaction extended off base, too, with Kentucky troops learning about Polish culture and visiting an orphanage to distribute toys they brought from Louisville.

Newell said that kind of interaction is invaluable.

“In this unstable world, dedicated allies are more important than ever,” she said. “The Polish have made very clear to us how much they value their membership in NATO and, in particular, their friendship with the United States. They fought with us in Iraq and Afghanistan — indeed, I remember transporting their troops and paying respects to their fallen during my deployments to Afghanistan.

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Trevor Sutherland, a C-130 pilot for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, interacts with Polish Air Force officials at Powidz Air Base, Poland, Dec. 10, 2014, during a three-week deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The Kentucky Air Guard fielded two C-130 aircraft and 50 personnel to conduct joint training and focus on interoperability in support of NATO operations. (Courtesy Photo)

“Although Poland is a relatively small country, the Polish have worked hard to demonstrate their commitment to NATO. Operation Atlantic Resolve is an expression of how much the U.S. values Poland’s contributions and cooperation in countering both regional and global threats.”

Newell said her Airmen felt privileged to take part in the mission because it gave them the opportunity to “be on the front line of building a stronger relationship between the U.S. and an ally, interacting with our Polish counterparts in everyday operations and everyday life, and building a relationship between nations through our actions on the flight line and on the streets.”

“Aircrew members are always trying to learn from one another, and this mission provided a rare opportunity to learn how another country employs the C-130,” she said. “But we also had the opportunity to learn about a historically significant nation that few of us knew much about. We share many values with the Polish, and foremost is freedom. It’s sobering to discuss freedom with citizens of a nation who only recently had to fight to regain it.”

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