More than 80 Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group stood up a cargo hub that will funnel humanitarian supplies and equipment into West Africa in support of Operation United Assistance, the international effort to fight Ebola.
The epidemic has already claimed over 3,500 lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The majority of Kentucky Airmen arrived Oct. 4, joining a 13-member assessment team that has been in place since Sept. 28. They’re operating an Intermediate Staging Base to Support Joint Task Force-Port Opening operations at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, according to Air Force Col. David Mounkes, commander of the Louisville-based 123rd.
The Intermediate Staging Base is designed to accept large quantities of cargo arriving on C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, process the material for forward movement, and load it onto C-130 Hercules aircraft for distribution into affected areas. Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 689th Rapid Port Opening Element also are assessing the movement of cargo here from seaports along the African coast.
The Kentucky Airmen landed in Senegal with all the equipment they need to provide command and control of aircraft and aerial port operations, including all-terrain forklifts, satellite communications gear and power-production capability.
“Our job is to get the right cargo to the right place at the right time,” Mounkes said. “This is the mission we train for 365 days a year, and our personnel are some of the best in the business. We’re ready to execute.”
The Department of Defense has committed to deploying up to 3,000 troops in support of the United States Agency for International Development, the lead federal agency coordinating the U.S. Government’s comprehensive response for Operation United Assistance. In addition to the creation of the cargo hub here and logistics nodes across West Africa, American forces will construct a hospital and more than a dozen other treatment facilities in affected areas.
Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Groves, commander of the 123rd’s Global Mobility Readiness Squadron, underscored the importance of the Intermediate Staging Base mission.
“What we’re doing here could save hundreds of thousands of lives,” Groves said. “We’re talking about a disease that, if left untreated, has a mortality rate of up to 50 percent. There is absolutely no other mission we will perform this year that is more important, or will impact more people, than this one.”
The 123rd Contingency Response Group is the only unit of its kind in the Air National Guard. Conceived as an "airbase in a box," the group acts as an early responder in the event of contingency operations worldwide. Its personnel are capable of deploying into remote airfields, providing command and control of aircraft, and establishing airfield operations so troops and cargo can flow into affected areas.
Unit members represent a broad spectrum of specialties, including airfield security, ramp and cargo operations, aircraft maintenance, and command and control.
In 2010, the group was one of two Air Force contingency response units to establish overseas airlift hubs supporting earthquake-recovery efforts in Haiti, directing the delivery of hundreds of tons of relief supplies into the Dominican Republic for subsequent trucking to Haiti.