CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – Dozens of Washington National Guard Airmen and Soldiers listened to words of encouragement from their state and military leadership in the passenger terminal at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Jan. 17.
They were about to embark on a historic mission to Washington, D.C., to support federal and D.C. agencies for the 59th presidential inauguration Wednesday.
In 72 hours, more than 300 Washington National Guardsmen and 34,000 pounds of cargo were transported to the National Capital Region by KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews from the Washington Air National Guard's 141st Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. More than 400 Washington National Guardsmen are part of the inauguration mission.
"I'm so very proud of you for stepping up. This is a historic event," said the state's adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty. "You're going to stand shoulder to shoulder with over 20,000 of our fellow Guardsmen from every state in the nation. That is a very powerful statement."
Behind-the-scenes coordination turned an idea into a mobilization within days but planning the airlift was no easy feat.
Air National Guard aircrews were flying thousands of Guardsmen to the National Capital Region from all parts of the country, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam. The aircraft availability and logistics had to be just right for the WA ANG to meet its time slot for transporting Washington Guardsmen.
With its primary mission of aerial refueling, 141st ARW has Airmen continuously deployed around the globe, and an association with the active-duty 92nd Air Refueling Wing. The 141st Maintenance Group leadership worked with their active-duty partners at the 92nd to get the right number of aircraft, the maintainers, and logistically made the mission happen, said Col. Larry Gardner, 141st Air Refueling Wing commander.
"When these state missions roll in, it's obviously a tip of the hat to our entire wing and our mission partners at the 92nd," Gardner said. "We're pretty good at what we do as far as being able to adapt and adjust fire with aircraft, with maintainers, with personnel, with which to support the DOMOPS (domestic operations)."
"I'm super proud of each and every Airman at the 141st for what they've done to be serious about their jobs, the pandemic and keep our team ready to go at a moment's notice for neighbor and nation," he added.
Since March, the Washington Air National Guard has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Members have supported food banks, testing and civil disturbance missions, provided election security, and helped fight wildfires, among other duties.
"If you just look over the past 12 months, just one of these events or incidents that we've supported in the National Guard would have been remarkable," said Col. Paige Abbott, director of staff for the Headquarters Washington Air National Guard.
Col. Brian Bergren, a WA ANG liaison officer to the Washington National Guard's Joint Operations Center and full-time commander of the Western Air Defense Sector's 225th Air Defense Squadron, said the historic mobilization to D.C. was a matter of logistics.
"If you approach a problem the same way every time, you can usually get to a pretty good answer," Bergren said. "Whether it's air defense of the United States and mission planning a presidential temporary flight restriction, or figuring out how to get 400 people across the country, if you break down a complex problem into digestible parts, you can do anything," he said.
The WA ANG team's heavy lifting to pull off the mobilization in support of the peaceful transition of power kept spirits high.
"This story highlights the amazingly agile, responsive, and dedicated team we have on both sides of the state," said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard. "In less than 24 hours, the plan went from a mental bar napkin to a whiteboard and ultimately into a plan that would become the largest airlift mission in recent Washington Air National Guard history, if not the largest ever."