Kentucky Air Guardsmen deploying to Persian Gulf to provide airlift for Freedom’s Sentinel

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

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Maj. Jenn Helton, a C-130 navigator in the 123rd Airlift Wing, kisses her husband at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 24, 2015, prior to departing for a deployment to the Persian Gulf. Helton was among more than 40 Kentucky Air National Guardsmen who deployed to an undisclosed air base in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The third rotation of more than 40 Kentucky Air National Guardsmen departed here today for deployment to an undisclosed air base in the Persian Gulf, where they will fly airlift missions in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

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Loadmasters and cargo specialists from the 123rd Airlift Wing load cargo onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 24, 2015, prior to the aircraft’s departure for deployment to an undisclosed air base in the Persian Gulf region. More than 40 Kentucky Air National Guardsmen boarded the plane. They will join other Airmen already in theater to fly airlift missions in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Freedom’s Sentinel is the follow-on mission to Operation Enduring Freedom. It focuses on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces; and on counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

 Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, thanked the deploying Airmen for their continued commitment to military operations all over the world.

“The 123rd Airlift Wing has been engaged in the Global War on Terror from the beginning, and I know you will be a part of this fight until the very end,” Tonini told the Airmen in a briefing just before their departure. “When our nation, our Air Force and our Commonwealth needs the best, they call on you. I have the utmost trust and confidence in your abilities to conduct your mission while overseas, and I thank you for stepping up once again to answer our nation’s call.”

The director of the state Board of Elections, Matt Selph, also was on hand to wish the Airmen farewell as a representative of Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

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Maj. Johnny Cantu, a C-130 pilot in the 123rd Airlift Wing, attends a briefing at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 24, 2015, prior to his deployment to an undisclosed air base in the Persian Gulf region. Cantu and more than 40 other Kentucky Air Guardsmen comprise the third rotation of 123rd Airmen to deploy to the base since February. They will be flying airlift missions throughout the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which provides military training and counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

“As a former Army first sergeant in the reconnaissance field who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan being transported on C-130s by men and women just like you, I’d like to relay on behalf of Secretary Grimes how thankful we are for the jobs that you do and the sacrifies that your families make,” Selph said. “I know I was thankful that men and women like you were able to get me and my troops deployed and redeployed safely.”

The Airmen, who departed aboard a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft, will replace earlier rotations of Kentucky Airmen that deployed in February. While overseas, the Airmen are expected to transport troops and cargo supporting a range of coalition military operations in the United States Central Command Area of Responsibility, which includes Afghanistan, Northern Africa and the Persian Gulf. Deploying Airmen include aircrew members, aircraft maintenance personnel and support staff.

The mission is expected to conclude by early July.

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Maj. Jenn Helton, a C-130 navigator in the 123rd Airlift Wing, and her son, Kaiden Helton, attend a briefing at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 24, 2015, prior to Helton’s deployment to an undisclosed air base in the Persian Gulf region. Helton and more than 40 other Kentucky Air Guardsmen comprise the third rotation of 123rd Airmen to deploy to the base since February. They will fly airlift missions throughout the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which provides military training and counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

The deployment marks the sixth time in the past 12 years that the Kentucky Air Guard has sent its aircraft, aircrews and maintenance personnel to support U.S. military operations in the U.S. Central Command AOR. The wing deployed aviation assets there in 2003, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, operating from multiple undisclosed locations and Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

The wing’s non-aviation personnel also have been heavily engaged around the world since Sept. 11, 2001, logging thousands of deployments to dozens of overseas locations, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In October, more than 70 of the wing’s Airmen deployed to Africa to support Operation United Assistance, the international effort to fight the worst Ebola outbreak in history.