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Kentucky Air National Guard members return home after aiding in D-Day celebration in France

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard returned to Louisville Tuesday afternoon after participating in events to mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in France.

The Guardsmen performed seven flyovers and helped airdrop nearly 1,000 U.S. and Allied paratroopers over the hallowed ground, as part of the ceremonies. The 123rd Airlift Wing deployed two C-130 Hercules aircraft and more than 30 Airmen to participate in the fly-bys and reenactments from June 2-9.

A Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 drops paratroopers during the re-enactment of the D-Day invasion last week. (Photo by Air Guard’s Phil Speck)

The biggest event was held June 9, when two Kentucky Air Guard C-130s flew in a 17-aircraft formation from which almost 1,000 paratroopers were dropped at the Iron Mike drop zone in Sainte-Mère-Église, France. The Kentucky C-130s led a nine-ship formation joined by aircraft from the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and C-130s from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Romania. They met up with eight U.S. Air Force C-130s to fly in the large Commemorative Airborne Operations event.

Sainte-Mère-Église was one of the first towns to be liberated from Nazi Germany in the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The observance was not without mishap, however. During one of the earlier flyovers, a Kentucky C-130 incurred a bird strike on one of its wings, said Capt. Nick Reinke, a 123rd Airlift Wing pilot and mission commander. The deployed group was able to contact U.S. Air Force maintainers at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, who delivered parts to repair the aircraft so it could fly again in commemoration events.

“This was the smoothest 17-aircraft formation we’ve ever flown in,” Reinke said, calling it an honor to reenact the heroism of Allied forces 75 years ago.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Brown echoed those sentiments.

“This was an incredible opportunity,” said Brown, loadmaster superintendent for Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron. “To be involved with something so significant – I never thought that in my career I would get to do something like this, especially as my career is coming to an end. We have some young guys with us, too, and it has been great for them to see what it takes to go into a large exercise like this.”

In addition to air operations, many ground support elements participated in the observance, including the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Global Mobility Squadron.

“I was very pleased that we could take a small team of 12 members, making up a contingency response team led by a senior noncommissioned officer, and for the first time in an overseas named exercise, provide superb support to U.S. and international aircraft. We hit a few snags, which they were able to overcome, and everything worked as planned.”

Col. Robert Hamm, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Group, agreed that the experience provided excellent training for large-scale interoperability.

“In additional to being able to take part of this momentous occasion, this was a great opportunity to train with the active duty Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and all the other countries that took part in the 75th anniversary of D-Day,” he said.

The 123rd was the only Air National Guard unit in the country to take part in the commemoration and re-enactment.

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