2016 was a milestone year for the Montana Air National Guard.
The 120th Airlift Wing finished its two-and-a-half year conversion from fighter jets to C-130 cargo planes, and the unit's first large-scale mission began in late October.
Now, the Air National Guard is focusing on helping airmen and their families adjust to this new chapter.
On Saturday, the MT ANG hosted "Wingman Day" at the Great Falls Civic Center.
It's an Air Force program helping units strengthen bonds between airmen and resources available to help families adjust to deployments.
The key word is "resilience."
Colonel Lee Smith, 120th Airlift Wing Commander, said, “Because what we do is very challenging and very demanding, and often requires us to be away from our families for long periods of time, so having those life skills and resilience to be able to manage that is really important for us."
Ottis West also addressed members of the Montana Air National Guard during the event.
West was awarded the Bronze Star after leading 160 combat missions as an Air Force convoy commander in Iraq.
He retired in 2013 and now serves as the Lead Resilience Instructor and Yellow Ribbon Instructor for TechWerks. His focus is on training airmen and soldiers to develop resilience and essential coping skills.
West said, “We train them very hard to go into combat on these deployed environments, and we give them every tool possible to accomplish the mission. We owe it to them to give them just as many tools to come back and celebrate the freedoms that they're fighting for."
In late October, nearly 100 members of the Montana Air National Guard left Great Falls on their first large-scale deployment to Southwest Asia.