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167th returns from Afghanistan

60-day mission supported Afgan war

60-day mission supported Afgan war

October 04, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

About 100 members of the 167th Airlift Wing based in Berkeley County, W.Va., were welcomed home Thursday following a 60-day mission in which they carried 818 tons of supplies and 1,174 people in support of the war in and around Afghanistan.

Members of the local West Virginia Air National Guard base were praised for flying more than 1,600 hours with no aborted missions.

Conducting that many flights without having to cancel any missions was impressive considering the temperatures that reached 130 degrees and the sandy conditions, which can play havoc with aircraft, officers said.

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Members of the 167th also were involved in dropping paratroopers in the region, the first time a unit other than a special operations division has been involved in such an effort, air guard officials said.

The exemplary work of the local guard members has not gone unnoticed in the military, said Gen. Allen Tacket, the adjutant general of West Virginia, who was in Martinsburg Thursday afternoon to welcome members of the 167th.

"You just don't know how much talk and how much praise I hear about the 167th. These people absolutely put West Virginia on the map," Tackett told returning 167th members in an auditorium shortly after their arrival.

"I am so proud of you. I love you and I mean that," said Tackett, who oversees all Air and Army National Guard operations in the state.

Members of the local Guard unit were stationed in Qatar, which is next to Saudi Arabia, Tackett said.

Their duty was to load supplies onto C-130 aircraft and transport them to different areas in Afghanistan and other nearby countries for U.S. military forces.

To avoid detection by enemy forces, many of the flights were conducted at night, and lights were turned off inside the airplane when they landed at their destinations, Tackett said.

Pilots used night vision goggles when making landings, said Master Sgt. Tom Young.

Young said the biggest concern among Guard members was coming under enemy fire. The areas where they landed were well-protected, but Guard members worried that someone with a shoulder-fired missile might be able to escape detection and fire on the planes, Young said.

"You never know where those guys can be. Thank God we didn't encounter (one)," Young said.

The 100 members of the 167th began arriving at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport mid-afternoon Thursday following a flight home that took more than 24 hours.

Base members arrived in three C-130s, Tackett said.

Members of the 167th ferried food, water, ammunition, medical supplies, military parts and building supplies to military forces, said Sam Rickabaugh, a crew chief on the mission.

The building supplies included plywood to make floors in the tents being used by military forces, said Rickabaugh.

Donald Grove, 29, of Martinsburg, said his job was maintaining the C-130s to keep them flying. He said the operations were set up "in the middle of nowhere."

Grove and the other 167th members were decked out in tan camouflage outfits designed for desert wear.

Members of the 167th have made about four deployments to the region. It is unclear how long a deployment will last or when the next one will be, officers said.

"It's going to be a long and hard battle to get all these bad guys, but I think with all the nations' support, I think we will win it," said Lt. Col. Ed Yost.

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