Minnesota guardsmen help secure skies above South Korea

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Air National Guard is frequently called upon when U.S. Pacific Command needs additional assets to deliver rapid air capabilities in the Pacific region, and Airmen from the 148th Fighter Wing out of Duluth, Minnesota, are currently stepping up to that call.

The Airmen arrived at Osan Air Base in April to fulfill a theater security package requested by PACOM and Pacific Air Forces.

“We’re here to back up active-duty forces and help deter regional threats,” said Lt. Col. Curt Grayson, the 179th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and 148th Aircraft Maintenance Unit commander.

6,000 miles from home

Moving the personnel and equipment needed to run the 148th FW’s aviation package wasn’t as simple as rolling out of Minnesota and flying 6,000 miles straight to South Korea. Months of careful planning went on to ensure the guardsmen had all of the gear they needed, were properly trained and accomplished the tasks necessary for a successful operation.

The seeds of the operation were planted during a Red Flag-Alaska exercise in 2015, where 179th Fighter Squadron personnel worked alongside the 51st FW’s 25th and 36th Fighter Squadrons.

Relationships born from that exercise set the guardsmen on a steady path, letting them quickly utilize the contacts they had made and not waste any time preparing to deploy, Grayson said.

“For our unit, it helped us figure out what we needed to do to fit into the Osan ‘fight tonight’ mentality,” he said.

Guard vs. active duty

One of the primary goals of 148th FW personnel is to work side by side with active-duty personnel around base, including full integration of 148th AMU back shops with their 51st FW counterparts.

“We all have different levels of experience,” said Maj. Mike Ketola, the 148th Operations Support Squadron senior intelligence officer. “People get (to Osan AB) and just when they’re getting comfortable after a year, they have to leave. We don’t really see that (in the 148th FW); we really get to practice and hone in on our experience, but we also get to make that experience available to other people and give opportunities to learn.”

An example of the experience from the 148th FW is a machinist with over 20 years of experience, which is virtually unheard of on the active-duty side. Coupled with the standard one-year turnaround rate at Osan AB, those 20-plus years of experience could be invaluable to the 51st FW’s machinist shop.

Best of both worlds

A unique aspect of a traditional guardsman is that he or she lives and works full time as a civilian outside of their required duty time, which requires them to step away from their normal lives during deployments.

Ketola works full time as a middle school history and geography teacher. He said he sees his time in South Korea as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons to bring back to his students.

He said, “You learn something every day, and to be here practicing what we’re doing, it gives you … experience and ideas that you can bring back home.

“I can bring some of these things back to my civilian world and give a real-world example: I witnessed this, I’ve been there, this is what I’ve seen and that’s how I can apply it now,” Ketola continued. “I like doing this because I can come back and share this knowledge not just with the military section, but on the civilian side with my kiddos.”

Once the Minnesota guardsmen return home, they’ll be replaced by another ANG unit here. So far during the deployment, the Airmen of the 148th EFS and AMU accomplished dozens of training sorties, participated in a major exercise alongside the 51st FW and integrated into the active-duty inspection system.

“It’s been a success so far; the pilots are getting the training they need, the maintenance is providing them good aircraft, and we were able to participate in (exercise Beverly Herd 16-01),” said Capt. William Carr, the 148th AMU officer in charge. “We’ve also learned quite a bit from the active-duty Airmen, since their pace is quite a bit higher than ours.”