Michigan Army National Guard engineers have arrived in Monrovia, Liberia where they join their Liberian counterparts to improve living conditions for 96 soldiers. The overseas trip also holds historic significance, representing the first time Michigan Guard members have flown large refueling tankers to the Liberian base.
Upon its arrival, the Gladstone-based 1430th Engineer Co. began work on a project that will result in the construction of a series of new barracks buildings. As the guard enters its fifth year of state partnership with Liberia, joint forces will work to address the lodging needs of the rapidly growing Liberian Army.
“This mission is a great example of our guard’s skills, abilities and spirit,” Maj. General Gregory Vadnais, Adjutant General for the Michigan National Guard said, “We’re breaking boundaries, this project further highlights the capabilities of our states soldiers and military.”
Despite its long-standing partnership with the country, this mission is the first time the Michigan guard has orchestrated a landing of KC-135s in Liberia. KC-135s, or large refueling tankers, are known for their ability to extend the flight endurance of smaller more tactical aircraft.
There is no previous record of tankers of this sort previously landing in Liberia and the mission required new logistical organization.
“There was a number of firsts with this mission, each presenting its own challenge,” Maj. Leah Voelker, project officer and director of operations for the 171st Air Refueling Squadron said. “Our Soldiers and Airmen met each obstacle with dedication and integrity, resulting in a successful flight and landing. The airfield in Liberia usually sees smaller, tactical aircraft. We had to develop new transportation systems as we went.”
The 1430th Engineer Co. has previously traveled overseas to train. In 2013, they supported Operation Beyond the Horizon in Guatemala.
“We’ve flown to Guatemala and over Africa for refueling operations and have landed in South Africa for an airshow but coordinating clearance and logistics for these particular aircraft in Liberia was a new challenge for us,” Sgt. Jessica Leahy, administrative officer for the 1430th said.
The recent flights transported the first unit of Michigan soldiers to participate in the joint engineering project. Rotations of engineers are expected to continue to Liberia on and off through February 2016.