KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa, Japan -- While traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun, members of the 146th Airlift Wing's Aerial Port Squadron, Communications Flight, Operations Support Squadron, and Logistics Readiness Squadron were fittingly greeted by a spectacular Spring Equinox Blood Moon, complete with a lunar eclipse. This would prove to be a sign of good things to come for their annual training tour to Japan.
On April 1, 2015, 43 members of the 146th, located at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station adjacent to Point Mugu, left California for a trip across the Pacific aboard one of the wing's own C-130Js with a busy schedule and an enlightening journey ahead of them. After an overnight stop at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, two members of the Logistics Readiness Squadron remained in place to complete their two-week annual training with members of their active duty Air Force, and the rest of us continued on our way to Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.
Quick stops in Guam and Wake Island rounded out our three-day journey to the remote island of Okinawa in the East China Sea. A long and arduous journey notwithstanding, members of the 146th were quickly dispatched to areas across base, and were able to offer their manpower and expertise to the active duty Air Force on one of the largest and busiest Air Force bases in the world.
Although Kadena is heavily manned to suit its operational requirements, shortfalls existed in nearly every section within their Logistics Readiness Squadron, known as the 18th LRS. The effects and results were felt immediately as the members of Channel Islands ANGS brought their experience, eagerness, and excitement to this opportunity to gain and share their knowledge of passenger and cargo movement.
The 146th members were led by 146LRS Commander Lt. Col. Teresa McDonald. She carefully prepared for this trip by selecting members from across all sections of the squadron who could both provide - and gain - valuable assistance with active duty partnership.
"This opportunity provides the entire squadron an opportunity to learn and grow from the active duty Air Force," said McDonald. "We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to train with our active duty counterparts in such a busy and complex environment."
Although Channel Islands ANGS is home to just one airframe - the C130J - 146th aerial porters were provided the opportunity to load and unload KC-10s, KC-135s, C-17s, and 747s.
"In a deployed environment, our members are required to assist with all types of aircraft," said McDonald. "This type of annual training provides us with invaluable experience applicable to any theatre on the planet."
Opportunities were also provided as the 146th "port dawgs" assisted with Red Flag, the exercise associated with the F-15 fighter aircraft. "Fighters are almost completely foreign to our handlers and maintainers, so this opportunity was instrumental in providing new experiences to our aerial porters on a whole new level," added McDonald.
Coincidentally, also present on Kadena during this training tour were 225 more Guardsmen of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. As they were departing back for their home station just prior to Channel Islands' own departure, the 146th aerial porters worked alongside the active duty 18LRS providing assistance with the Cargo Deployment Function, and supporting the re-deploy of their sister Guard unit from Wisconsin. "This is what we do," explained Master Sgt. Louis Franco, Aerial Port Superintendent from the 146th. "The Guard is a family, so whenever and wherever we can offer assistance, we take full advantage of that opportunity". Adding to this event, Lt. Col. Matt Eakins, commander of the 115th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Wisconsin said, "After spending more than four months training at Kadena, we were more than thankful to have the 146LRS assist with our re-deploy."
The training opportunities were not limited to assisting Air Force members alone. A cadre of U.S. Marines was deploying in support of Exercise Balikatan, a training mission to the Philippines just south of Okinawa in the South Pacific. 146th aerial porters provided assistance with loading and unloading of PAX (passengers) and cargo before and after their trip. "Different branches deploy differently, but they all end up processing through the same place right here in the Air Mobility Squadron", said Franco.
Aside from the many regularly-scheduled exercises, real-world opportunities arose on a daily basis. Re-directed flights, space-A passengers and offshore storms required immediate and professional assistance from Kadena Air Base and its ground crews. "The Guardsman is ready at a moment's notice. That's the motto we live by, and it's the way we prepare for the real world", said Lt. Col. McDonald. "This active duty environment provides us with ample opportunities to prove that".
Sadly, an opportunity was also given to the 146th LRS to assist with a dignified transfer of a young airman who passed away during the training mission. "Unfortunately, some real-world scenarios involve casualties. I am fortunate to have men and women professional enough to be able to respond to and handle these delicate situations", said McDonald.
Representing the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron within the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing at Kadena, Lt. Col. Derek Stuart enthusiastically welcomed the assistance from the Air National Guard. "The Guard brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that is critical in my ability to train young active duty airmen."
The invaluable training opportunities gained and given during this annual tour have proven the strong bonds that exist between active duty Air Force and Air National Guard units. "We, as Guardsmen, have provided a backfill to active duty services throughout the history of this nation," explained McDonald. "It only seems right to continue with this tradition in today's war-fighting environment. It's a win/win situation".
The trip also provided occasions for some R&R whereby some of the 146AW members were able to visit historic sites such as the Battle of Okinawa Heritage Site at Memorial Peace Park. 285,000 military and civilians, to include American, Okinawan, and Japanese perished in the battle that was the final push to Tokyo in World War II. "This was a very humbling experience," said McDonald. "This visit served as a reminder for our American presence in foreign lands today. Our family far exceeds the boundaries of our own shores."