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Coronet Oak

Coronet Oak is the name for the continuing operation in which Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and Air National Guard C-130 aircraft, aircrews and related support personnel deploy from the United States to Muniz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico, to provide theater airlift support for the U.S. Southern Command. The Guard and Reserve support the Coronet Oak mission year round. Units rotate in and out of Muniz ANGB every two weeks. Forces assigned to CORONET OAK provide United States Southern Command with logistic and contingency support throughout Central and South America.

Every day, National Guard F-16s are scrambled to intercept suspected drug smugglers, and P-3 search and rescue aircraft roam the skies searching for drug traffickers trying to sneak through the area. The United States will use the superior location of Howard AFB as a launch pad for trips to Central and South America. The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve took over the Panama mission in October 1977 from the active duty Air Force. The AFRC began Coronet Oak operations on Oct. 1, 1977, when the 442nd Tactical Airlift Wing, Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, Mo., deployed to Panama, replacing the active-duty U.S. Air Force C-130 units that had been supporting Coronet Oak on a rotational basis since 1962. Air Guard units from across the United States rotated through the air base every two weeks to keep the mission going.

The Coronet Oak mission featured embassy resupply, support of U.S. troops and the Drug Enforcement Agency, medical evacuation and alert missions. The C-130 aircraft is ideal for these missions, with the capacity and flexibility to fly multiple types of human and airlift cargo long distances in all types of weather, land at small airstrips ranging from dirt and asphalt to concrete, and perform airdrops from low to high altitudes at night and under adverse conditions. After Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in late October, aircraft and crews flew numerous flights between Honduras and Panama where they were deployed for Operation Coronet Oak.

Coronet Oak, the exercise which many Air Guardsmen came to know as 'the Panama Rotation" ended on 17 February 1999 at official ceremonies conducted at Howard Air Force Base in the Republic of Panama. The closing of the Coronet Oak mission is part of a series of events in which the Republic of Panama will take possession of all former U.S. military bases and the Panama Canal as part of the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977. According to the treaty, U.S. military personnel must leave Panama by December 31, 1999. The 24th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron oversaw the Coronet Oak operations at Howard AFB. Air Guard units from across the United States rotated through the air base every two weeks to keep the mission going.

While assigned to Puerto Rico, AFRC units supporting Coronet Oak are under operational control of the commander, U.S. Southern Command. The C-130s are used for a variety of missions including: 1) theater airlift -- transporting cargo and personnel throughout Central and South America; 2) airlift for training; 3) search and rescue; 4) disaster relief operations; 5) evacuation of United States nationals; and 6) embassy support.

Guard and Reserve C-130 units have been instrumental in many vital operations since their arrival in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility. They were the first into Guyana following the tragedy at Jonestown, and evacuated some 1,600 U.S. and third-country nationals from Nicaragua during the civil war. They have also airlifted relief supplies to many countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean following natural disasters.

The Coronet Oak mission is of great benefit to the Reserve. Aircrews are committed to a year-round, deployed, real-world operational mission. Because of the varied types of missions the reservists fly and the physical environment in Latin America, aircrews are exposed to almost every type of flying, over some of the most dense jungles in the world.

Through Coronet Oak, the on-hand airlift requirements of the U.S. Southern Command are cost effective. It costs less to rotate elements of Guard and Reserve C-130 units through Muniz ANGB than to station a C-130 squadron in Puerto Rico permanently, which would require stationing all related maintenance and support equipment, facilities and additional personnel.

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