Early Saturday morning, while most of us were enjoying a long holiday weekend, 26 people from our community were on their way to see what our local Air National Guardsmen are doing to protect America and our interests around the world.
It's a four-hour flight by C-130 to San Juan, where the 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard is involved in Coronet Oak, part of Operation Southern Watch in Puerto Rico. The Guard is on active duty for six months, but our group was only in San Juan for the weekend. Still, the 165th was happy to have guests.
Colonel Steven Westgate told us, "We're always interacting with our local delegation to make sure that we get the monies we need to improve our facilities, and we've had pretty good luck with that."
San Juan is beautiful, historic, and an excellent location for Coronet Oak. The Air National Guard can conduct operations in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. They're also responsible for bringing contractors to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most of all the Guard is ready if there's a crisis in the region.
"If something happens in South America," said Major Todd Turk, "we're within a day's reach and we can be the first on the scene."
More than 700 of the 1,000-plus members of the 165th also have jobs outside the Guard. Their diversity means the 165th is well-equipped for almost any job. "It's a melting pot," Senior Airman Milagros Perez said. "We share our knowledge and it's like you put it all in one pot and you make a good dish."
After a weekend in San Juan, our Savannah delegation agreed.
Chatham County Commissioner Dean Kicklighter commented, "I have a whole new respect for the 165th as well as the entire Georgia National Guard."
"It truly reinforces what I believe America is all about when I see the Guardsmen and the response I see they have been doing with this deployment here in San Juan," said Georgia state representative Ann Purcell.
"The folks here in the 165th are doing an outstanding job," added Major General Wick Searcy of the Air Guard. "We're proud of them, what they do and what they stand for."