There is an air of excitement and pride at Bradley Air National Guard Base.
After months of anticipation, military families and friends are celebrating the return of more than 100 Connecticut Air National Guardsmen of the 103rd Airlift Wing from an overseas deployment.
The deployment, which mobilized the Guardsmen for service in various locations across Southwest Asia was significant as it marked the beginning of a new era for the 103rd Airlift Wing; it was the first time the unit had ever deployed the C-130 Hercules overseas as part of its new tactical airlift mission. In today's world, the C-130 is just as important as it was 60 years ago.
"This type of mission is new to the 103rd and it has a very high ops tempo," said Lt. Col. Stephen Gwinn, 103rd Operations Group Commander. "The most important role that the C-130 plays now is supplying front-line operators with the supplies that they need when they are on the ground. Our work was definitely highlighted during this deployment. Whenever the threat reached very high levels, the C-130 was the only aircraft that could be sent to deliver necessary supplies to troops on the ground."
According to Gwinn, the Airmen of the 103rd Airlift Wing performed their jobs with remarkable proficiency during the deployment; they made mission accomplishment look easy. However, despite how effortless the deployment may have appeared, the new mission presented tough challenges. Years of training, extended work days and working with limited resources and facilities are just a few of the obstacles that the unit had to overcome to ensure the success of the deployment.
"Training the aircrew for the new mission without some of the resources and facilities that we have now was very challenging," said Gwinn. "100 percent of the credit goes to the Airmen who did all of the work to get us to our first C-130 deployment. Our training office and our maintainers in the unit were able to get out and practice the mission to perfection. Other units are now trying to emulate what we do. We had to work to make ourselves better than what we were. We did an amazing job of accomplishing the mission."
Some who observed the Guardsmen as they prepared the C-130s for deployment thought that the task would be too overwhelming; the Flying Yankee aircraft maintainers proved the doubters wrong and made their fellow Guardsmen, family and friends proud. The success of the mission, after years of hard work and training, made the return home to Connecticut even more rewarding.
"The reward is in mission completion," said Gwinn. "Every one of our Airmen who deployed and worked 16-hour days, flying into hostile environments--they all came home even more motivated and it's because of the training we did at home station. This is like our graduation. We finished school by going to the desert and completing this deployment. We're not done yet. We're going to continue getting better."