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123rd Airlift Wing [123rd AW]

The mission of the 123rd Airlift Wing is to provide worldwide theater airlift for U.S. military and humanitarian operations. The wing is equipped with 12 C-130H model aircraft. Eight squadrons and nine flights carry out the unit's mission by providing administrative and logistical support, including aerial port, combat control, maintenance, supply, transportation, contracting, communications, civil engineering, personnel, base services, security forces and medical functions.

The Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Fighter Group and 165th Fighter Squadron were created on May 24, 1946 as part of a nationwide redesignation of World War II U.S. Army Air corps units. Under War Department orders, the insignia, World War II battle credits and honors of the 168th Fighter Group and 359th Fighter squadron were transferred to the Kentucky National Guard, with federal recognition coming on February 16, 1947. The 123rd designation actually dates to the 123rd Cavalry Regiment, which can trace its lineage back to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. The latter unit fought in the Civil War.

The Kentucky Air National Guard was assigned 25 P-51 Mustangs in May 1947. The unit's aircrews rapidly attained a high level of combat readiness, and just two years later, the wing earned its first Spaatz Tropy, an award given each year to the premier Air Guard flying unit.

On October 10, 1950, during the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman placed the 123rd Fighter Group on active duty and moved the unit from Standiford Field to Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The unit's P-51 Mustangs were ferried to the Far East, and several of the unit's pilots volunteered for combat duty over Korea.

In November 1951, the wing as ordered to replace the Strategic Air Command's 12th Fighter Escort Wing at Manston R.A.F., England. The 123rd was equipped with F-84 Thunderjets, and its aircrews participated in joint NATO deployments through June 1952. Deactivation and a return to peacetime status came in July 1952.

From 1956 through 1957, the unit flew the F-86 Sabre Jet, but the following year, the unit's mission was changed from air defense to reconnaissance with a conversion to the RB-57 Canberra aircraft. In 1965, the unit switched airplanes again, receiving the RB-101 Voodoo supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. Just prior to the arrival of the new airframes, the 165th was awarded its second Spaatz Trophy for superior combat readiness and flight training.

On January 26, 1968, the Pueblo Crisis precipitated the 123rd's recall to federal service. Now officially known as the 123rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, the unit flew just under 20,000 tactical flying hours and delivered nearly 320,000 reconnaissance prints to requesting agencies. Assigned personnel served on active duty for 16 months, returning to state service on June 8, 1969. The wing earned its first Air force Outstanding Unit Award for its exceptional performance during this period.

The 123rd TRW experienced a rocky tour of active duty. The wing had not been rated combat-ready when mobilized on 26 January 1968 primarily due to equipment shortages. It was not part of Secretary McNamara's selected reserve force. The unit was given an unsatisfactory ORI rating in October 1968. Despite those problems, the 123rd made a significant contribution to active force operations. It began functioning as the primary Air Force tactical reconnaissance unit in the continental U.S. Elements of its squadrons rotated temporary duty assignments in Japan and Korea from July 1968 until April 1969 providing photo reconnaissance support to American forces in those areas. The wing's units were returned to state status between December 1968 and June 1969.

During 1976, a no-notice conversion announced by the National Guard Bureau brought the two-seat RF-4C Phantom II to the KyANG. The unit attained combat-ready status within seven months -- a record time. The Phantom years were marked with many overseas deployments, participation in international photo reconnaissance competitions and a remarkable flight safety record. In 1981, the unit placed first in the Air National Guard Photo Finish Competition and earned an unprecedented third Spaatz Trophy.

In May 1983 the unit reached another historic milestone when it earned the highest possible rating from Tactical Air Command during its Operational Readiness Inspection. This was the first time that a TAC unit had received an outstanding rating. On January 1, 1989 the unit was awarded its seventh Air Force Outstanding Unit Award -- then a record for any Air National Guard unit.

On January 8, 1989 the 123rd was officially redesignated the 123rd Tactical Airlift wing and began conversion to the C-130B Hercules transport aircraft. By the end of the year, the unit had been involved in many worldwide airlift missions, including exercise Volant Oak in Panama. The unit also participated in an airlift competition, Sentry Rodeo. The wing's first humanitarian airlift came in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

Although the 165th Tactical Airlift Squadron, the wing's flying component, was not federally mobilized for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, unit volunteers stepped forward to support the war effort. From August 1990 to March 1991, the 165th flew 1,240 airlift sorties worldwide in direct support of the Gulf War -- the most for any Air National Guard unit. An additional 88 wing members were activated in support of Desert Shield/Storm.

In May 1992 the 123rd received the 2000th C-130 straight off the assembly line as it began conversion to the C-130H model aircraft. Eight months later, the 123rd deployed to Mombassa, Kenya, to fly relief missions into Somalia for Operations Restore Hope and Provide Relief. Citizen-soldiers from the 123rd flew 150 sorties and transported 720 tons of relief supplies and 1,444 passengers into some of the hardest-hit areas in Somalia.

When the world's attention shifted to Eastern Europe in February 1993, the 123rd responded again, deploying in support of Operation Provide Promise. The unit's all-volunteer force flew 1,082 airdrop and airland sorties and delivered 2,215 tons of food and supplies into war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. To support the operation, the wing deployed 451 personnel into Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, over several rotations until May 1994.

In July 1994 the 123rd answered another call for help and deployed within 72 hours of notification to fly relief missions into Rwanda and Zaire for Operation Support Hope. Operating out of Mombassa, Kenya, unit personnel flew 147 sorties, transporting 652.5 tons of relief supplies to the beleaguered Rwandan refugees. Personnel from the unit's 205th Combat Communications Squadron also deployed to Haiti that year as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, providing satellite communications links for the theater commander.

In September 1994 the wing's sustained record of achievement was recognized by award of the 1993 Curtis N. Rusty Metcalf Trophy, presented annually to the best Air National Guard airlift or air refueling unit. The wing also earned the Air National Guard Distinguished Flying Unit Plaque and Air Force Flight Safety Plaque. In November 1994 the unit was granted its eighth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.

The wing returned to Bosnia in 1996 to provide airlift for U.S. and NATO troops who were protecting the fragile peace. More than 170 Kentuckians volunteered for the mission, which delivered 913 tons of cargo and transported 2,296 passengers. The wing also achieved the highest readiness rate of any unit in the theater.

That commitment to service continued in 1997, when the unit participated in several overseas deployments while offering a helping hand at home. More than 100 Kentucky Air Guard troops provided security forces, medical aid, communications links and civil engineering crews after record flooding ravaged several Kentucky communities.

The unit also made its presence felt overseas, offering civil engineering skills in Spain and airlift services in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Southern Watch, which enforces the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq. Other wing members deployed to Egypt as part of a multinational training exercise that integrated 7,000 troops from every branch of the U.S. military and six foreign countries.

In February 1998, the 123rd Airlift Wing received its ninth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. The following month, the wing accepted its sixth Distinguished Flying Unit Plaque, recognizing the 123rd Airlift Wing as one of the top five Air Guard flying units in the nation for 1997. A mere three months later, the wing as presented with the 15th Air Force Reserve Forces Trophy as the top reserve unit in the numbered Air Force.

1998 continued the 123rd Airlift Wing's tradition of global deployments with missions to Panama as part of Operation Coronet Oak and Ecuador for Nuevos Horizontes '98. The latter operation, whose name means New Horizons in Spanish, was a Southern Command joint training exercise that gave Kentucky Army and Air Guard engineers the opportunity to fine-tune military skills while constructing clinics, schools, and latrines in rural areas of the South American nation. Nearly 1,300 of the Commonwealth's citizen-soldiers participated in the effort, which also provided impoverished Ecuadorians with basic dental and medical care.

The following year, the wing returned to Bosnia once more to provide theater airlift for the continuing peacekeeping mission, now called Operation Joint Forge. More than 350 Kentucky aircrew, maintainers, and support personnel deployed for the operation, along with about 200 members of the Ohio Air Guard's 179th Airlift Wing.

The two unit's C-130s flew nearly 500 sorties during the deployment, delivering 3,500 passengers and more than 1,000 tons of cargo to sites across Europe and inside Bosnia, including Sarajevo and Tuzla. The units also were tasked with helping stockpile equipment for what became Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against Serbian forces in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Working around the clock with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the Kentucky and Ohio crews flew more than 70 tons of fighter support equipment from U.S. bases in England and Germany to bases in Italy. The Kentucky Air Guard closed out 1999 by again deploying for Operation Southern Watch, providing theater airlift services from an air base in Muscat, Oman.

In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Nashville International Airport (IAP) AGS, TN. This recommendation would distribute the C-130H aircraft of the 118th Airlift Wing (ANG) to the 123d Airlift Wing (ANG), Louisville IAP AGS, KY (four aircraft) and another installation. Military judgment was the predominant factor in this recommendation--this realignment would create one right-sized squadron at Louisville (79) and would retain experienced ANG personnel.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:09:06 ZULU