JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day took on special meaning for twenty-six members of the Montana Air National Guard stationed in Hawaii. The 120th Fighter Wing pilots and maintenance personnel ended deployed operations flying F-15 Eagle alert missions protecting the Hawaiian Islands on Dec. 7.
The historical significance of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not lost upon the Montanans. The Guardsmen completed 28 months of 24 hour alert operations at Detachment 1 ensuring their fighter aircraft were ready to immediately respond to airborne threats to the area. Their service now ends as the Hawaii Air National Guard resumes alert operations after completing their conversion to the F-22 Raptor.
“We came out here to do the alert mission for the Hawaii Guard that is transitioning to a new airplane. That took a couple years for them to do and wound up being quite a bit longer than we expected due to some issues with the F-22 conversion. The only reason we’re standing down is that the F-22 squadron is ready to go and we’ve basically done our part,” said 120th Fighter Wing Detachment 1 Commander, Lt. Col. James Bong.
The Montana Vigilantes generated impressive flying statistics during the time spent at the detachment. According to the Chief Enlisted Manager of Detachment 1, Chief Master Sgt. Randy Kelley, Montana F-15s logged 1560 flight hours flown over the course of 929 sorties since Aug. 3, 2010, resulting in a 100 percent success rate with no missed time standing alert.
“It was a mission that needed to be done, and Montana’s always been that unit that if there is something that needs to be done, we’ll do it. The folks came down here and they did it in true Montana style, professionalism from day one. It’s been just an outstanding accomplishment,” said Kelley.
Bong said the alert mission required detachment personnel to remain on site in a quick response mode of operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“From the moment we took over the mission until we handed it over we have never come down off status, so we have fulfilled every mission requirement asked of us here. In the overall big picture I couldn’t be happier, it’s just an outstanding job and it’s a real tribute to the men and women of the Montana Air National Guard,” said Bong.
Since the alert requirement has ended the members of Detachment 1 will turn their concentration to redeploying the aircraft, equipment, supplies and personnel back to their base in Great Falls, Mont.
The original unit members arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam with six pallets of supplies and equipment. They now have a total of 16 pieces of rolling stock and 20 pallets of equipment and supplies to return to the mainland.
“We’re going to utilize a fair amount of the workforce that we’ve got here, but in reality is it’s going to be those 11 people that have been here for the whole time. They’re going to be the primary ones that we’re going to utilize for manpower. Home station is going to send us a few people to assist with some expertise in some certain areas. So the long and the short of it, there’s going to be about 14 of us here that are going to be packing and cracking and getting things out of town,” said Kelley.
Certified Load Planner Senior Master Sgt. Dawn Paul Charron will be a key player in the redeployment effort. She will coordinate building the pallets of supplies and equipment to be loaded on the C-5 and C-17 aircraft that will transport the material across the Pacific Ocean. Some equipment has been prepositioned, but no packing can be done until all F-15 fighter aircraft have left the island bound for Montana to ensure that parts and supplies are ready and available if needed.
“We figure from the time that we can start building pallets until the time we can send it over to the joint inspection we’ve got about three days, and we’re going to build 36 increments in three days,” said Charron.
“It is just like a puzzle. You build it like a pyramid, you start at the outside and you build it up until you get to the very top,” she said.
Many of the Guardsmen who have undergone a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move to Hawaii will need to ship their personal goods and see that their families return home safely.
The goal is to have most of the Montana Guardsmen home by Dec. 20.
“We knew our time was coming and we’d have to go and we’ve all been away from home for a long time. All good things must come to an end, but at the same time it works out just about right that we’re all going to get home just before Christmas. It should make the holidays real nice. Most of us, if not all of us, are going to miss what we did here, especially when we get back to Montana and have to put that parka on,” said Bong.