LANSING, Mich. — Members of the Michigan Army National Guard's 1430th Engineer Company arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, last week to begin a cooperative project with Liberian Engineers.
In a historic first, the engineers were transported by two KC-135s from the Michigan Air National Guard's Selfridge-based 127th Wing.
"This is a perfect case of a "Pure Michigan" operation," said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general for the Michigan National Guard. "We used Michigan aircraft operated by Michigan Airmen to transport Michigan Soldiers to our partnership country of Liberia."
The Michigan Guard is entering its fifth year of a State Partnership Program with Liberia. The 1430th is in Liberia on the first of several planned rotations of Michigan Guard engineers working alongside their Liberian counterparts to improve the living conditions; while there they will assist with the construction of new barracks buildings. The Liberian Army has experienced considerable growth recently and is in need of increased lodging.
Getting the Soldiers from Michigan to Liberia was the first step in the process.
"There were a number of firsts with this mission (and) each presented its own challenge," said Maj. Leah Voelker, director of operations for the 171st Air Refueling Wing, and the project officer for the deployment.
"We have never planned for an aircraft to actually land in an African country so getting clearance for aircraft and equipment was a new process for us. We have flown over Africa for refueling operations but never landed on African soil before. Liberia typically sees more tactical aircraft like C-130s and C-17s land but we could not find any record of a tanker landing before the Michigan KC-135s."
The 1430th is no stranger to traveling overseas to train. Two years ago they supported Operation Beyond the Horizon in Guatemala. "Going to Guatemala in 2013 was much less stressful," said Sgt. Jessica Leahy, administrative officer for the 1430th. "Because we were replacing a unit already working on the project so many of the transportation systems were already in place. This was the first unit in (Liberia) on this engineering project so we were figuring our systems as we went, kind of building the airplane as we fly it."
Rotations of engineers are expected to continue into Liberia on and off through February of 2016.