EAST GRANBY, Conn. (WTNH) — More than 100 members of the Connecticut Air National Guard left for a mission in Africa Tuesday morning. Between the dark and the fog, it felt like a secret military mission was underway. The Connecticut Air National Guard, however, has been getting ready for this for months.
“There’s a lot of long hours behind the scenes that people don’t see,” Lt. Steven Tucker said. “Aircraft maintainers getting these aircraft ready to go and any last-minute things that need to be adjusted to get the mission off the ground.”
The aircraft are C-130s, for decades, the go-to cargo plane for the US military. The 103rd Airlift Wing specializes in flying and maintaining its C-130s.
“Bringing people and cargo to locations around the area, but we can do airdrop as well if needed,” explained an aircraft commander who did not want to be identified. “If there’s no place to land, we can drop the equipment or the personnel to the locations.”
Their new location will be the Horn of Africa, supporting ongoing U.S. military operations. Of course, they will miss Connecticut.
“My family,” Capt. Jennifer Pierce said. “Absolutely, I will miss my family the most.”
And their families will miss them. Many came to say goodbye. Millie Blazas’ son Brendan deployed once before.
“It was a great experience. He was a medic back then,” Blazas said. “He went to Kuwait and then he saw a bunch of C-130s flying over his base, and that’s when he decided he wanted to become a flight engineer and be in a C-130.”
A lot is going on in the part of the world where these airmen and airwomen are headed, so they are not exactly sure what kind of military operations they will be supporting. Col Steve Gwinn, the commander of the 103rd Airlift Wing, says his people can do it handle anything because they have done it all before.
“In 2017, it was the second battle of Mosul. We were there in the thick of things against ISIS,” Gwinn said. “In 2019, we were doing the cleanup out of Iraq, and then, of course, we had Afghanistan starting to do their big wind down.”
This mission means they won’t be home again for several months.
“It’s tough. It’s never easy, it doesn’t get any easier,” the aircraft commander said. “In fact, it probably gets harder as it goes on, but a military family is very resilient.”
Plus, those families and the men and women in uniform all know that Connecticut supports them, too.