Kentucky’s Adjutant General spreads holiday cheer to Kentucky Troops serving in Afghanistan
Story and pictures by Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, Director of Public Affairs, Kentucky National Guard.
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Dec. 23, 2010) – Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, the adjutant general for Kentucky, and key members of his staff visited Kentucky Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan during a command and morale trip in early December.
Tonini, Chief of Staff Col. Ron Turner, Director of Public Affairs Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, Squadron Commander Maj. Shawn Dawley, State Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Armstrong and State Command Chief Master Sgt. James Smith spent two-and-a-half days in Afghanistan, visiting with Kentucky troops from the Agribusiness Development Team, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Detachment, 2123rd Transportation Company and 123rd Airlift Wing Detachment.
“It’s taken us over 21 hours of actual air-flight hours to get here to be with you all prior to Christmas, but for all of us, it’s worth it,” Tonini said, to an assembly of Kentucky’s second Agribusiness Development Team.
“There is no place on Earth that I would rather be than with you all here today,” he said. “I must say, out of all the adjutants general of the 54 states and territories, I am the most fortunate to be with my troops, as the rest of the TAGs are still under the Afghan travel embargo.”
Tonini and the Kentucky delegation were able to secure travel access into Afghanistan through his combatant Kentucky-partner, Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
“General Campbell is truly a partner for the Kentucky Guard,” Tonini said. “When you think of those who watch over our Kentucky Guard here in country, you need to say ‘thanks’ to our partners at Fort Campbell, the 101st. They are the security-might of this region.”
The first leg of Tonini’s command visit was a meeting with Col. Hunter Mathews, commander of Task Force Ironhorse, Kentucky’s second Agribusiness Development Team, which is tasked with revitalizing agriculture in Afghanistan.
Seventy percent of Afghans earn their living from agriculture, producing 40 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product. As ADT members help improve the Afghan agriculture, the Afghans are able to improve their standard of living, thus improve the stability of the provincial and central government.
“Whenever someone in Washington mentions the National Guard’s agribusiness development mission, they think Kentucky,” Tonini said. “Even though eight other states are involved in this federal mission, Kentucky leads the way.”
Tonini and staff received a formal mission update from Mathews prior to visiting the KYADT2 troops in their living quarters and work environment.
“It means a lot to me to have our leadership be with us, especially when we’re deployed from home during the Christmas season,” said Master Sgt. William W. Meriwether, supply sergeant for Task Force Ironhorse.
[More pictures of Adjutant General Tonini's visit with KYADT2 can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/sets/72157625618730660]
The same sentiment was echoed by Soldiers deployed with the 20th Special Forces Group, headquartered not far from the KYADT2. “It’s always great to see Kentucky’s adjutant general with his troops,” said Col. Randall M. Zeegers, commander of the 20th SFG. “I’m really glad he was able to be here.”
The 20th SFG (Airborne) is one of two Army National Guard groups for the United States Army Special Forces. The mission of the 20th SFG is to plan and support special operations in any operational environment, such as Afghanistan. Special operations can be conducted independently or in coordination with conventional forces.
Zeegers hosted a traditional Afghan meal for Tonini and his staff, prepared by local Afghan merchants.
[More pictures of Adjutant General Tonini's visit with the 20th SFG can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/sets/72157625492823445]
Following his visit with the 20th SFG, Tonini and his staff visited with Airmen from of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
The 123rd AW Detachment deployed three aircraft and 160 aircrew members from Kentucky to Bagram Air Force Base late October as part of the Central Command’s Air Expeditionary Force air-package.
“We’re breaking all-time Air Force records every week, with moving over 1200 tons of material and supplies a month, “ said Lt. Col. Robert Hamm, 123rd AWD commander. “Not bad for an Air National Guard task force.”
According to the Air Force Times, a recent 12-week period recorded approximately 500 bundles being air-dropped per week by aircrews in Afghanistan, which amounts to 450 tons dropped each week.
By comparison, during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, 482 tons of supplies were dropped in a two-day period in December 1944. In Vietnam, during the battle of Khe Sahn, 294 tons were dropped in a 77-day period.
The 123rd Airlift Wing is making a very significant difference in the theatre’s ability to resupply its forces and conduct its missions on a daily basis.
“The fight needs Kentucky, and that’s why they called us,” said Hamm.
[More pictures of Adjutant General Tonini's visit with the 123rd AWD can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/sets/72157625493315619]
Tonini then met with Campbell, currently stationed at Bagram. Dec. 4, Campbell presented Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear with an honorary Screaming Eagle award from Bagram via live video communication during a holiday celebration meal at the Air Guard Base in Louisville. (previously posted at: http://tinyurl.com/268k892).
The combination of 101st Airborne and Kentucky National Guard troops equates to approximately18,000 Kentucky Soldiers and Airmen in Afghanistan this holiday season.
Read part 2 of Adjutant General Tonini’s Afghan holiday visit, Friday, Dec. 24th.