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Afghan Mission Earns Maryland Crew Major Award

A Maryland Air National Guard C-130 crew is presented the Earl T. Ricks Award for outstanding airmanship by Maj. Gen. William H. Etter, Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the National Guard Bureau (far left), and Mr. Joseph E. Sutter, Air Force Association Chairman Of The Board (far right). From left to right, they are Lt. Col. Thomas Hans, Tech. Sgt. Billy Shiflett, and Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Kelly of the 135th Airlift Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Brian Miliefsky, a member of the California Air National Guard. (Released)

A Maryland Air National Guard C-130 crew is presented the Earl T. Ricks Award for outstanding airmanship by Maj. Gen. William H. Etter, Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the National Guard Bureau (far left), and Mr. Joseph E. Sutter, Air Force Association Chairman Of The Board (far right). From left to right, they are Lt. Col. Thomas Hans, Tech. Sgt. Billy Shiflett, and Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Kelly of the 135th Airlift Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Brian Miliefsky, a member of the California Air National Guard. (Released)

BALTIMORE -- With an Army unit in direct contact with the enemy and in need of an emergency resupply, a Maryland Air National Guard C-130J crew came to the rescue with much-needed supplies and ammunition. 

"We got guys fighting the enemy and we are going to do whatever we have to do to get them the supplies they needed," said Lt. Col. Mike Mentges, 135th Airlift Group director of operations, who was the aircraft commander during the mission. "There was a lot of action in the vicinity." 

This sortie was just one part of a day-long mission to resupply Army units that wound up landing the crew of TORQE 95 a prestigious flying award. 

Colonel Mentges, Capt. Kristen Hoeckel, Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Kelly and Tech. Sgt. Billy Shiflett of the 135th Airlift Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Brian Miliefsky of the California Air National Guard, received the Earl T. Ricks Award Sept. 14 at the Air Force Association's annual Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition. 

The annual award recognizes Air National Guard members for outstanding airmanship. The crew flew the mission in Afghanistan during an Air Expeditionary Force rotation in the summer of 2008. They were stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, at the time. 

Colonel Mentges said the original mission for the day involved three airdrops to small forward operating bases. The first airdrop, humanitarian supplies for an Army unit to distribute to local villages, went according to plan. 

The second airdrop involved delivering ammunition to the Army and then a return to Bagram Airfield. It was at this second drop that Army forces were in contact with the enemy. The crew coordinated with Joint Tactical Air Controllers on the ground to ensure the supplies landed where enemy forces could not seize it. 

When the plane returned to Bagram, they were told they would need to fly to Kandahar and load emergency supplies for another airdrop with the troops in contact. With the supplies aboard, TORQE 95 returned to the scene of the fight. 

"They were still fighting the bad guys," said Colonel Mentges. The crew again coordinated with JTAC and fighter aircraft that were engaged with the enemy. They held outside the area until the fighters had disengaged, and then modified their drop to come in from a direction to avoid the enemy. 

To top it all off, the crew went on to conduct a fourth air drop at another location before calling it a day. 

"At the end of the day we dropped 42,000 pounds of ammo and supplies," said Colonel Mentges. 

The Earl T. Ricks award, a national award for Air National Guard personnel, was established in 1954 in honor of Maj. Gen. Earl T. Ricks who served as chief of the Air Force Division, National Guard Bureau.