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2022 Year in review: Flying Yankees moving forward

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Conn. -- After earning a top overall grade on the Unit Effectiveness Inspection, the Connecticut Air National Guard went full steam ahead in 2022, demonstrating its mission capabilities.

“Our pace did not slow down,” said Col. Stephen R. Gwinn, Commander, 103rd Airlift Wing. “As always, the Flying Yankees are the best in the nation and it’s all due to the airmen doing the work every day throughout the wing.”

The 103rd showcased various strengths and strategic posturing throughout the year. Exercises Swift Response and Cyber Yankee, as well as multiple community outreach events were some of the high points of what Gwinn deemed to be an exemplary effort put forth by members of the 103rd in 2022. The year culminated with the wing’s deployment of an aviation package comprised of four aircraft and more than 100 Guardsmen to Africa where they served under the U.S. Africa Command in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.


The 103rd Operations Group

“In standard fashion, the airmen of the 103d Operations Group performed incredibly well in 2022,” said Col. Neal Byrne, Commander, 103rd Operations Group. “To say I’m proud of the 103rd Operations Group is an understatement of grand proportions. The 103rd Operations Group has done so much in such a short amount of time, it’s hard not to beam with pride when talking about them.”

In May 2022, members of the 103rd OG were among 9,000 troops from 17 allied and partner nations to participate in Swift Response 22. The exercise, aimed at enhancing relationships and interoperability with partners and allies on the European continent, underscored the U.S. Air Force’s focus on building readiness to face near-peer adversaries in future conflicts. The Flying Yankees’ contribution to the exercise included two C-130H aircraft and dozens of airmen in support of critical airlift and airdrop missions.

Following Swift Response 22, members of the 103rd OG attended Fieldcraft in Uncertain and Hostile Environments pre-mobilization training, then deployed as part of an aviation package to the Horn of Africa.

During the deployment, the Flying Yankees flew 643 hours on more than 100 combat missions.  These missions delivered in excess of 1,750 personnel, 2.1 million pounds of cargo, and a 150,000 pounds of fuel, which were de-fueled from the unit’s aircraft tanks to combat outposts in austere and often contested areas of Somalia and Kenya. 

“The wet-wing defueling procedures executed during the deployment kept Personnel Recovery Task Force helicopters and a myriad of other combat aircraft flying when over-the-ground fuel shipments were being intercepted and destroyed by the enemy,” said Byrne. [The procedures] were developed by a team of Flying Yankee airmen and validated at the MAJCOM level.”  

A team of airmen went to Air Mobility Command in late 2021 with a proposal, seeking to gain approval to develop, test and standardize a more comprehensive set of Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capabilities for the C-130H. Specifically, the team sought approval for wet-wing defueling, which enables the rapid transfer of fuel from the wings of a C-130 to a fuel bladder or truck as the aircraft’s engines are running, enhancing agility during contingency operations. According to Byrne, the team’s efforts made wet-wing defueling a reality for the entire C-130 mission design series.

Members of the team were:

Lt. Col. Joshua Linden, navigator, 103rd Operations Group

Maj. Douglas Ferro, pilot, 103rd Operations Group

Master Sgt. Khaleef Graham, loadmaster, 103rd Operations Group

Master Sgt. Cameron Dunn, loadmaster, 103rd Operations Group

Master Sgt. Trenton Zanow, flight engineer, 103rd Operations Group

For his efforts, Zanow gained national recognition and was named the Mobility Air Force Tactician Non-commissioned Officer of the Year for 2021 at the Mobility Air Force Weapons and Tactics Conference in August 2022.

“Not only did a Flying Yankee receive national level recognition for changing the way C-130s are employed in combat, the work this team did was indeed doctrinalized within a year of their final validation efforts with AMC, then proven in combat by the Flying Yankees themselves,” said Byrne. “The 103rd OG is a corner stone in modern US tactical airlift capability and leading them has been the highlight of my professional career.”


The 103rd Maintenance Group

“2022 was another year with milestones and hurdles that the best maintainers in the Air Force rose up to meet,” said Col. Christopher Pack, Commander, 103rd Maintenance Group.

In the early months of 2022, the 103rd Maintenance Group encountered one such hurdle when members were tasked with getting the 103rd’s C-130H aircraft ready to deploy to Africa by August of that year.

“The primary goal in 2022 was to generate four aircraft and [several] maintainers to support the aviation package deployment,” said Pack. “Due to depot maintenance schedules, we only had four aircraft to make this happen, so we had to have a 100 percent delivery rate.  As witnessed by so many, on that foggy August morning, the men and women of the 103rd Maintenance Group did what they do best, which resulted in four aircraft departing home station and arriving at the deployed location on time.”   

The maintainers were put to the test again in September 2022 when the U.S. Air Force grounded the majority of its C-130H fleet due to potentially defective propeller barrels. The 103rd Maintenance Group deployed additional maintainers to Africa to perform critical maintenance on the four deployed aircraft.

“A grounding of the entire C-130H model fleet due to an immediate action Time Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) for propellers added a hurdle to both deployed and home station operations,” said Pack. “With the assistance of support agencies here at [Bradley Air National Guard Base], the maintenance group was able to generate four members and tooling on short notice and deliver them to the [deployed location] to assist the downrange team in changing 16 propellers and conducting four functional check flights in five days. To put that in perspective, it usually requires a day to drop and reinstall a single propeller.”   

In the final months of 2022, 103rd maintainers obtained approval to apply a heritage paint scheme to C-130H aircraft 93-1456 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Flying Yankees. Pack described the aircraft as “a work of art and heritage that truly represents the pride in ownership that, not only the men and women of the maintenance group possess, but the entire wing.” The heritage aircraft is scheduled to take flight in March 2023.

“For the entire year, there was so much work that was accomplished, both at Bradley and the deployed location, leaving it better than they found it…a true mark of a professional organization,” said Pack. “I am blown away by the dedication, effort, and attitude that the members of the maintenance group demonstrate every day they come to the base.”


The 103rd Mission Support Group

The 103rd Mission Support Group began 2022 with more than 100 of its airmen returning home to Connecticut from overseas deployments.

“The thing that I'm most proud about our team accomplishing in 2022, by far, are the deployments,” said Col. Amanda Evans, Commander, 103rd Mission Support Group. “When we started 2022, everybody was coming back from the [Reserve Component Period] 6 deployments. We had over 100 people from this group of only 400, so 25% of our group was deployed.”

Upon their return, members of the 103rd MSG went to work to support the aviation package that was scheduled to deploy to Africa in August 2022. Members of the 103rd Force Support Squadron ensured that 95 percent of aviation package deployers received orders 180 days prior to their deployment, which enabled them to receive TRICARE healthcare entitlements before they deployed. The Personnel Deployment Function and the Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Cargo Deployment Function enabled the processing and rapid mobility of troops and cargo to Africa.

Throughout 2022, MSG airmen also completed various base projects.

"When our civil engineers got back from RCP 6, we harnessed the skills of those members, instead of paying a contractor to do the small things,” said Evans. “They did plumbing in the bathrooms, built a room around the tractor trailer simulator, installed HVAC, did all the electric drops for the treadmills and the TVs in the base gym, and built a retaining wall.”

According to Evans, training was a major focus for the 103rd MSG in 2022. Members of the 103rd Communications Flight participated in Cyber Yankee 2022, a regional cooperative training exercise that evaluates the capabilities of government agencies and critical infrastructure representatives within the private sector to respond to cyber attacks. The annual exercise enhances joint partnerships by promoting interagency communication and cooperation.

The 103rd also held Ready Airmen Training (RAT), a newly implemented readiness training, coordinated by the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management team. More than 600 airmen exercised skills in casualty care, weapons handling, shoot-move-communicate, and Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) defense. The training concluded with an immersive skills application scenario that combined battlefield simulation effects.

“We stepped outside of the box and thought about ways to do a new way of training that is probably going to be implemented across multiple bases,” said Evans. “Our emergency management team is getting credit for that. It was their innovative thinking that is now being used as a benchmark.”

Other notable training conducted by members of 103rd MSG in 2022 include, the Combat Ready Defender and Cold Weather Operators Courses completed by members of the 103rd Security Forces Squadron, and Mutual Aid Partnership training conducted by the Bradley Air National Guard Base fire department. 

“I think that all of our airmen are incredibly proud of the work that they did,” said Evans. “They've done awesome things. I'm just so proud of them and I appreciate all of them, because I think I learned something from them every day.”


The 103rd Medical Group

Members of the 103rd Medical Group were at the forefront of the Connecticut National Guard’s COVID-19 pandemic response, beginning in 2020, and continuing through 2021. In 2022, the group shifted its focus to enhancing the skills of its airmen.

According to Col. Patrick “Andy” Kelly, Commander, 103rd Medical Group, the 103rd MDG’s partnership with Hartford Hospital made the unit one of the first in the Guard to implement a Training Affiliation Agreement with a local hospital. The 103rd MDG is now among the Guard units that lead the nation in Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) training. 

“The MDG set the bar for Guard Medical Unit TCCC compliance, with a 100 percent training rate for MDG personnel and an 89 percent completion rate for the basic level [training] wing-wide,” said Kelly.  “Additionally, our airmen are at the forefront of development of the [Critical Care Air Transport Team] mission in the Air National Guard.”

A Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCAT) is a specialized medical team that augments standard aeromedical evacuation crew members, providing intensive care while aboard an aircraft. In 2022, the 103rd MDG executed multiple interstate and joint training sessions within the CCATT mission set. In 2023, one of the group’s goals is to make the Periodic Health Assessment process more efficient for the wing.

“I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside the airmen of the 103rd Medical Group,” said Kelly. “We look forward to a substantial milestone in the coming year in the execution of a “super-PHA” in August. This will serve as a significant enabler to the entire wing, consolidating the PHA process, currently distributed over 11 Unit Training Assemblies, to a single drill weekend.” 


The 103rd Air Control Squadron

In 2021, the 103rd Air Control Squadron deployed 60 percent of its members to multiple locations in Southwest Asia and the United States in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Mission Resolute Support. The unit began 2022 with a focus on supporting those members as they returned home from deployment.

“The beginning of 2022 was focused on reintegration of family life, civilian careers, and even reintegrating unit deployers and non-deployers,” said Lt. Col. Glenn Sherman, Commander, 103rd Air Control Squadron. “In addition, we were getting back on track with AFSC upgrade training, recurring administrative requirements, and ensuring [combat-mission-ready] status for our operations personnel.”

In 2022, the 103rd ACS embarked on progressive technological and operational advancements. Participation in Cyber Yankee 2022 and technical research and development for transition to cloud-based access for radar data, radio access, and distributed operations simulation scenarios were among the year’s highlights, demonstrating the unit’s progression.

The 103rd ACS also took steps to adapt to new personnel and training requirements.

“Our operations personnel have aggressively tackled the positional and academic changes required for mission commanders and mission systems operators as the Command and Control (C2) enterprise enters a period of transformation with tenets that include, Agile Combat Employment and Multi Capable Airman,” said Sherman.

In 2023, the unit will remain focused on advancement, with next generation, multi-mission, ground based radar testing as a focal point.

“The unit has endeared itself at every opportunity to host further C2 transition and advancement initiatives highlighted by being one of two units selected for Air Battle Management System Rapid Capabilities Office testing and development, and next generation TPY-4 radar pilot testing,” said Sherman. I’m extremely proud of what the members of the ACS accomplished in 2022.”


Moving Forward

Members of the 103rd reached numerous milestones in 2022. Looking forward to 2023, Gwinn envisions continued success as the wing adapts to the new Air Force Force Generation Model (AFFORGEN).

“Readiness will be challenging for years to come as we adapt to AFFORGEN , the Air Expeditionary Task Force plan, and how this correlates to our current aviation deployment rotation and RCP,” said Gwinn. “The wing training plan will have to be very clear and concise as we execute our readiness exercise in 2023 in preparation for our graded exercise in 2024.”

The AFFORGEN model, a 24-month cycle composed of four, six-month readiness phases, is meant to ensure a sustainable force. Gwinn is confident that members of the 103rd are ready for what lies ahead.

“The 103rd Airlift Wing faces many challenges every year, and successfully maneuvers these challenges due to the outstanding professionalism of our Flying Yankee Airmen.”