Illinois Air National Guard unit continues to support hurricane recovery
By Master Sgt. Ken Stephens, 126th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published October 19, 2017
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- An Illinois Air National Guard unit continues to airlift supplies and personnel to assist with Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
The 126th Air Refueling Wing, located at Scott Air Force Base, in a mission that began on September 30, flew nearly 15 hours to accomplish the mission. The KC-135R Stratotanker and crew, assigned to the 108th Air Refueling Squadron, were tasked to take food, water and medical supplies to Puerto Rico. They also airlifted Louisiana Army National Guard personnel to help with the ongoing recovery efforts.
The no-notice airlift was executed in less than 48 hours from notification to completion.
“Lt. Col. Steve Olson called us Saturday evening,” said Master Sgt. Shannon Tindle, the aviation resource manager for the 126th, speaking of her call with the 108th commander. “The aircrew went straight into mandatory crew rest to ensure they were ready for the flight. Meanwhile, Maj. Ben Wheelan, in the squadron current operations, planned the mission, I processed their flight orders and our Aircrew Flight Equipment prepared their gear.”
The crew for the humanitarian mission consisted of Lt. Col. Nicolas Henschel, a pilot and aircraft commander; Maj. Anthony Meyers, a pilot; and boom operators, Master Sgt. Jameson Liggett and Staff Sgt. Korbin Hays. Also tasked for the crew were 126th Maintenance Group crew chiefs: Senior Master Sgt. Barton Swett, Master Sgt. Carlos Fernandez, and Tech. Sgt. Peter Perry.
According to Tindle, they were alerted by the wing command post Sunday morning of the final mission tasking and arrived at the 126th Operations Group shortly after. The mission was airborne by Sunday afternoon.
They flew their first leg to New Orleans Naval Air Station, Louisiana.
“We loaded the aircraft with 15,000 pounds of water, MREs and medical supplies,” said Liggett. “We also took on 39 soldiers from the Louisiana National Guard and their equipment including tents and cots.”
From Louisiana, the aircrew flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and landed at midnight Sunday. The airfield had very little lighting according to Liggett.
“The airport was heavily damaged and very austere. We had to unload quickly and fly back out to make room for more inbound Air National Guard airlifts,” said Liggett.
The mission then headed to MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Florida. They landed at 4 a.m. which put the crew at 15 hours for the entire mission, explained Liggett.
The entire aircrew was glad to have a chance to help according to Liggett. “Missions like this are one of the reasons we’re in the Guard,” he said.
The next week, on October 10, the wing also deployed an all-volunteer 13 person security team from Scott Air Force Base to the island.
According to team leader, Tech. Sgt. Sean Closson, their mission is to provide physical security for the airport at Aguadilla.
While waiting for their cargo to load on the plane, Col. John Boehning, commander of the 126th Mission Support Group, told them, “It’ll be a different experience but you’ll certainly do a good job. I’m looking forward to hearing good things. Thank you for volunteering and stepping up.”
The team then boarded an Air National Guard C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft that flew in from the 139th Airlift Wing, St. Joseph, Missouri, to begin their trip.
The 126th Air Refueling Wing has also deployed an eight person team and communications package, currently supporting Puerto Rico recovery efforts, and participated in other efforts to airlift aid to storm stricken areas in the U.S. and its territories.
The 126th Communications Flight’s Joint Incident Site Communications Capability assists disaster response teams by giving task force commanders a vital tool to assist with search and recovery efforts. The package provides real time internet, radio, phone and video chat capabilities.
The 126th Air Refueling Wing is participating in global contingencies including Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve, and deploys members world-wide in support of the national defense of the U.S. and its allies. The wing is part of the U.S. Strategic Command’s mission to deter aggression and decisively respond if deterrence fails.