October 13, 2018 (by Lt. Col. Dale Greer) - The Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing has earned its 17th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, maintaining a nearly unsurpassed record as one of the most decorated organizations in Air Force history.
Airmen from the 123rd AW attend a ceremony at the Kentucky ANGB in Louisville on September 16, 2018, celebrating the wing’s accomplishments in the last year. The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the wing’s 17th Outstanding Unit Award, eighth Distinguished Flying Unit Plaque and the 2017 Contingency Response Unit of the Year Award. [ANG photo by SSgt. Joshua Horton]
The award, which is bestowed to the top 10 percent of units across the Air Force, recognizes the wing for excellence in mission accomplishment, community engagement, participation in deployments and exercises, and unit readiness.
Only a handful of organizations have matched the 123rd's continued record of excellence with 17 AFOUAs, said Brig. Gen. Warren Hurst, Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air, who presented the latest award to Col. Jeffrey Wilkinson, wing commander, during a ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here Sept. 16.
Wilkinson, speaking to nearly 1,000 Airmen gathered in the Fuel Cell Hangar, praised wing members for setting the standard against which others are measured.
"In addition to the Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do, all of you across the 123rd Airlift Wing exude the complementary values of commitment, persistence and faithfulness," he said. "I wholeheartedly believe this is what makes us stand ahead of all other Air Force wings and why you have earned the deserved recognition as the most outstanding and decorated mobility wing across the entire U.S. Air Force."
The wing's latest award recognizes accomplishments from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2015. During that time, the Louisville-based unit deployed 588 Airmen to 19 locations in 13 countries — many in harm's way — for a total of 21,523 Title 10 days.
Among those deployments, the wing mobilized more than 90 Airmen and two C-130 Hercules aircraft to Qatar in support of operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom's Sentinel, flying 466 missions and 625 combat sorties to airlift nearly 4,000 troops and 355 tons of cargo.
The wing's 123rd Contingency Response Group and 123rd Special Tactics Squadron were heavily engaged as well. Special Operators were deployed for more than 3,700 days in support of taskings that spanned four theaters, conducting over 50 combat search-and-rescue sorties and more than 470 combat missions controlling 800 aircraft and resulting in more than 700 enemy killed in action.
In West Africa, the 123rd CRG rapidly deployed 84 Airmen and equipment to Dakar, Senegal, for Operation United Assistance, the international effort to fight the largest outbreak of Ebola virus in history. As the first Air Force unit on the ground, the group quickly established an air base and cargo processing facility from scratch, supporting the arrival of 193 aircraft and the delivery of 1,198 short tons of cargo and medical supplies, including blood and plasma.
The wing also participated in numerous joint and international training exercises in Alaska and Europe, including the 70th-anniversary reenactment of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, Operation Sabre Junction in Germany, Operation Noble Ledger in Norway and Operation Atlantic Resolve in Poland.
Back home, the wing continued to set high standards for community engagement, hosting the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and facilitating two Thunder Over Louisville air shows with attendance in excess of 1.3 million people. The unit also supported its key international partners through military exchange programs with the Colombian and Djiboutian militaries; supported multiple distinguished visitors, including the president and vice president; and further enhanced its public affairs engagement, with eight national awards of excellence in news, feature and photo coverage, and top-ranked social media platforms reaching more than 1 million people.
In other awards during the two-year evaluation period, the wing earned its seventh Distinguished Flying Unit Plaque, awarded annually to the top five units in the Air Guard; its fourth Curtis N. "Rusty" Metcalf Trophy as the top airlift wing in the Air Guard; and the Major General Stanley F.H. Newman Award from the Airlift/Tanker Association as the best airlift or tanker unit in the Air Guard.