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Teamwork leads to historic mobilization of Washington Guardsmen

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to members of the Washington National Guard Jan., 17, 2021 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., prior to their travel to Washington D.C. in support of the Presidential Inauguration. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Tim Chacon.)

Story by Lt. Col. Alyson Teeter
Washington Air National Guard

Demonstrating the culmination of expeditious planning and coordination, dozens of Washington National Guard Airmen and Soldiers gathered together and listened to words of encouragement from their state and military leadership in the passenger terminal at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, on Jan. 17, 2021.

They were about to embark on a historic mission to Washington, D.C., as part of the National Guard’s Operation Capitol Response to support federal and D.C. agencies for the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 20.

In the course of 72 hours, more than 300 Washington National Guardsmen and 34,000 pounds of cargo were transported to the National Capitol Region by KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews from the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington. In total, more than 400 Washington National Guardsmen are part of the inauguration mission.

“I'm so very proud of you for stepping up. This is a historic event,” said the state's adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty. “You're going to stand shoulder to shoulder with over 20,000 of our fellow Guardsmen from every state in the nation. That is a very powerful statement.”

Behind-the-scenes coordination turned an idea into a mobilization within a matter of days but planning the airlift was no easy feat.

Air National Guard aircrews were flying thousands of Guardsmen to the National Capitol Region from all parts of the country, to include Alaska and Hawaii. The aircraft availability and logistics had to be just right in order for the WA ANG to meet their time slot for transporting Washington Guardsmen.

With its primary mission of aerial refueling, 141st ARW has airmen continuously deployed around the globe and the wing has a classic association with the active duty 92nd Air Refueling Wing. The 141st Maintenance Group leadership worked with their active duty partners at the 92nd to get the right number of aircraft, the maintainers, and logistically made the mission happen, said Col. Larry Gardner, 141st Air Refueling Wing Commander.

“When these state missions roll in, it's obviously a tip of the hat to our entire wing and our mission partners at the 92nd,” Gardner said. “We're pretty good at what we do as far as being able to adapt and adjust fire with aircraft, with maintainers, with personnel, with which to support the DOMOPS [Domestic Operations].”

“I'm super proud of each and every Airmen at the 141st for what they've done to be serious about their jobs, the pandemic and keep our team ready to go at a moment's notice for neighbor and nation,” he added.

Since March 2020, the Washington Air National Guard has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with food bank and testing support, civil disturbance missions, election security, employment insurance assistance, wildland fire crews, and now inauguration support.

“If you just look over the past 12 months, just one of these events or incidents that we've supported in the National Guard would have been remarkable,” said Col. Paige Abbott, director of staff for the Headquarters Washington Air National Guard.

According to Col. Brian Bergren, a WA ANG liaison officer to the Washington National Guard’s Joint Operations Center, and fulltime commander of the Western Air Defense Sector’s 225th Air Defense Squadron, tackling this historic mobilization wasn’t a new problem or new type of mission.

“If you approach a problem the same way every time, you can usually get to a pretty good answer,” Bergren said. “Whether it's air defense of the United States and mission planning a presidential temporary flight restriction, or figuring out how to get 400 people across the country, if you break down a complex problem into digestible parts, you can do anything,” he said.

“It's just a matter of not being overwhelmed by the task at hand, but being willing to go, ‘Alright let's take a moment and figure out what are the parts that we get after and then finding the experts in the room who can best get after those parts.’”

More than 500 WA ANG Airmen have mobilized to support domestic operations since the pandemic began in March 2020. After a marathon year of responding to domestic operations, Abbott said the secret to making it all work is the quality of the Airmen and leadership’s forward thinking.

“It goes right back to the Airmen because if you don't have the quality Airmen that might have to be activated, your mission goes nowhere,” she said. “It is based on our training and the education of the Airmen and Soldiers that make the mission successful and having leaders who are willing to create opportunities for the Airmen to be successful.”

The WA ANG team’s literal and figurative heavy lifting to pull off the mobilization in support of the peaceful transition of power kept spirits high.

“This is an amazing experience, to look around the military department, the state employees, the military federal employees, and how we are all supporting the state and the nation to ensure we move forward and inaugurate the new president and have democracy continue as it was outlined in the Constitution,” Abbott said.

“This story highlights the amazingly agile, responsive, and dedicated team we have on both sides of the state,” said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard. “In less than 24 hours, the plan went from a mental bar napkin to a white board and ultimately into a plan that would become the largest airlift mission in recent Washington Air National Guard history, if not the largest ever.”