After more than two years of transition, the Montana Air National Guard literally launched into a new era on Monday morning.
Earlier this month, the 120th Airlift Wing announced that it completed the two-year conversion process from fighter jets to C-130 cargo planes, and were ready to deploy.
The C-130 Hercules aircraft and support personnel left Monday to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve.
"For the past two years it has been a long, challenging conversion," said Colonel Lee Smith, the commander of the 120th Airlift Wing.
"I am extremely proud of them. They have trained really hard these past two and a half years. They have demonstrated that they are more than ready to do the mission," Lee said.
He noted, "Most of our deployers have deployed before but with different aircraft. About ten percent have previous C-130 deployment experience."
And for some, this is the first time they will be leaving friends and family behind.
"I am just excited to learn new things. Go to different places I have never been and meet new people. Also learn more about my job," said Staff Sergeant Megan McDunn.
Even though she looks forward to doing her job, the mission does come with sacrifices at home.
"I have a 17-month old at home so I am a little nervous about leaving him but he is in good hands," McDunn said.
Master Sergeant Eric Delange says staying in contact with family while overseas will be much easier than his first deployment.
"My kids they are 12 and 11, so they like to talk to daddy every night. This will be a lot easier than what it was in years past where they get a letter once of twice a week from daddy," he said.
Delange says serving in the Montana Air National Guard is a privilege: "There is no other job around where you can do things like this for your country. You are working for your fellow wingman, it is not just a 9-5 job where are are working for yourself. You are working for others people who are depending on you."
The Operation Inherent Resolve website provides this overview:
In the summer of 2014, a new terrorist group which had risen during the chaos of the Syrian Civil War attacked across the Syrian-Iraqi borders and seized large swaths of Iraqi territory in the Euphrates River Valley and northern Iraq. Several Iraqi towns fell to the invaders, who called themselves “The Islamic State.” By the end of summer, it seemed that Baghdad itself was threatened by IS.
Combined Joint Task Force – Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (CJTF-OIR), by, with and through regional partners, is to militarily defeat DA’ESH in the Combined Joint Operations Area in order to enable whole-of-coalition governmental actions to increase regional stability.
More details about the C-130 from the U.S. Air Force website:
The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas. The C-130 operates throughout the U.S. Air Force, serving with Air Mobility Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Pacific Air Forces, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command, fulfilling a wide range of operational missions in both peace and war situations. Basic and specialized versions of the aircraft airframe perform a diverse number of roles, including airlift support, Antarctic ice resupply, aeromedical missions, weather reconnaissance, aerial spray missions, firefighting duties for the U.S. Forest Service and natural disaster relief missions.
Using its aft loading ramp and door, the C-130 can accommodate a wide variety of oversized cargo, including everything from utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles to standard palletized cargo and military personnel. In an aerial delivery role, it can airdrop loads up to 42,000 pounds or use its high-flotation landing gear to land and deliver cargo on rough, dirt strips.