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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 05 2009

Five of 40 Hooligans back after Asia deployment

The Happy Hooligans have sent mechanics, security police and other support personnel to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of Southwest Asia many times in recent years.

For this last deployment to an unnamed location in Southwest Asia, the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard also sent some hardware.

On Tuesday, the Hooligans welcomed home five of the 40 airmen sent overseas in May and one of two of the unit’s C-21A Lear Jets.

The deployment marks the first time the Hooligans sent a jet into a war zone, despite the many years the unit has flown fighter aircraft.

“We have been flying jets for over 60 years, but this was the first deployment that the Hooligans have ever sent jets into a theater of war,” Col. Kent Olson, the wing’s vice commander, said in a news release.

Seven of the deployed airmen returned Monday. The other 28 will return throughout the week, the Guard announced.

The airmen were piloting and maintaining the C-21As. The second aircraft returns in September.

Capt. Grant Larson, the maintenance squadron commander and officer in charge of the deployment, said the harsh environment was a test.

“It’s long days, 115-degree heat, humidity and 40-mph winds,” Larson said.

Workers could get dehydrated or burn themselves on the metal of planes sitting in the sun, he said.

“It’s a demanding environment. The pace of the work is very high.”

Larson said the demands of the war zone required a round-the-clock schedule.

“We have to make sure that we have jets that are ready to go and pilots are ready to go,” he said. “Whatever it takes to make that happen.”

The Hooligans showed their expertise by being the first unit in the U.S. Central Command to have its Lear Jets maintained by airmen, not civilians. They also won the aircraft maintenance unit of the month in June, competing against six other units.

“Everybody knew who we were for positive reasons,” Larson said.

Previous deployments by the 119th Wing have been small groups of volunteers. This time, it was a partial unit mobilization, Larson said. That made it an important learning experience as the Hooligans prepare to transition to operating the Army and Air Force’s next-generation medium load-lifter Joint Cargo Aircraft.

“Every one of our guys on this deployment raised their hand to volunteer to go on this. It’s because of pride, not only in themselves, but in their unit,” Larson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583