October 7, 2011 (by Maj. Elizabeth Kreft) - More than 175 members of the 113th Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard, will deploy to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, this week in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
USAF F-16C block 30 #87-0310 from the 121st FS is ushered out onto the runway before heading out for its deployment to Afghanistan on October 11th, 2011. [USAF photo by TSgt. Craig Clapper]
The unit's F-16 pilots, aircraft maintenance crews and other support personnel will depart in three stages beginning this Friday. The main body, more than 110 Air National Guard members, will depart Saturday evening from Andrews Air Force Base.
"This is the second deployment for our aviation package in 18 months," said Brig. General Jeffrey Johnson, 113th Wing commander. "However, this is the first F-16 package the Air National Guard will send to Afghanistan, so it presents some new challenges for us."
Air National Guard units nationwide have supported deployment operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the 113th Wing - dubbed the 'Capital Guardians' - has a demanding mission at home that makes their deployment preparations unique.
"We have the lead NORAD
mission to provide air defenses for the National Capital Region," said Johnson. "Even though we are deploying our forces forward to Afghanistan, we still maintain a constant response presence here at home."
Since 9/11, the 113th Wing has maintained a 24/7 Aerospace Control Alert response force for the nation's capitol. This includes several pilots and maintenance crews standing by for an alert call (indicating a potential threat), and ready to launch F-16 Fighting Falcons - loaded with live weapons - at any time.
That means while most units can engage all their jets or people to meet a deployment need, the 113th Wing has the added responsibility of balancing their resources to meet a no-fail mission at home and overseas.
"We have a high operations tempo here at the 113th, but that allows us to be much more prepared to answer the nation's call when an emergency situation arises," said General Johnson.
Some wing members will return from this deployment in late December, while others will stay in Afghanistan for a longer period of time.
The Capital Guardians will also deploy civil engineering and security forces members to two other deployed locations in the next four months.