Danville native commanded supply wings during war

August 31, 2003|GARY MOYERS

When American and coalition troops invaded Iraq in March, a lifelong Danville resident was tasked with keeping the aerial supply pipeline flying.

Col. Howard P. Hunt III, a 29-year veteran of the Kentucky Air National Guard, recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom where he headed the Expeditionary Maintenance Group for the largest gathering of C-130 transport planes ever assembled.

It was his group's job to make sure all of the planes in the 485th, then the 379th Air Expeditionary Wings, were ready to fly their assigned missions.

They met the mission requirement schedule at a rate of 93 percent effectiveness during the war itself, blending Air National Guard, Reserve and regular units from seven states into one wing.


All 46 cargo aircraft and 24 F-15 fighters in the 485th were maintained by personnel under the command of Hunt, a self-described "boy from Danville," who attended Junior ROTC at Danville High School and ROTC at Texas Christian University.

"I knew I wanted to join the military after hearing stories from my grandfather, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II," he said.

"All Kentuckians and the American people can be proud of the service that America's military men and women are providing in Southwest Asia," said Hunt. "Our military has made history in Operation Iraqi Freedom by conducting an operation that got to the enemy capital city quicker than ever before in history, and performing operations so effectively that there were no remnants of regime leadership to tender surrender."

Hunt will serve as grand marshal of the Celebrating American Heroes Parade Sept. 6 in Danville, and said it is a tremendous honor to represent many others who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, all past wars - and those who are still serving.

"I got pretty emotional when I found out," he said, referring to his invitation to the parade. "I've been in the military going on 30 years, and for this to happen is a great reminder of the support I've received from my family, my community and the people I served with. I am humbled by the thought that I will represent all the veterans of all branches who served their nation and are still serving. It's a great, great honor and privilege for me."

Hunt has been on active duty for more than a year and was deployed March 5 to Saudi Arabia to take command of the 485th.

"The first thing that struck me was the sand," he said. "It's everywhere. It might be different colors, but with few exceptions, that's the dominant terrain."

During the war, Hunt lived and worked in a tent, commanding almost 900 people who kept the planes flying, delivering equipment, supplies and soldiers to remote locations throughout the U.S. Central Command of Responsibility.

"Each time we captured the area around an enemy airfield, we'd begin flying in and out," he said. "Our planes were shot at, but we didn't lose any."

Hunt's group became especially important when the Iraqis implemented a strategy involving guerilla attacks on land supply convoys.

"The fact that the C-130s could land at those remote air fields took some of the pressure off the convoys," he said. "It meant we could avoid those types of attacks, and thwarted a great part of the Iraqi defense strategy."

Hunt's C-130s also took part in some of the more publicized actions in the war, including the rescue of POW Army Private Jessica Lynch.

"Our group took the rescue forces in to Talil, and then brought them back out again," said Hunt.

He was unable to contact home for the first two weeks of the war, but about March 19 when the war actually began, he said five-minute calls were allowed home once a week. Then in mid-April the call length was extended to 15 minutes, and soldiers were given access to e-mail.

"It wasn't enough, but it had to be," he said, referring to the time allowed. "You had to accept the fact that things were OK back home and focus on doing the job we were sent to do."

Things were OK back home, Hunt said, because families and others rallied around the troops.

"The support from home is what keeps you going," he said. "I got cards frequently from churches, and I received a number of notes from school kids and others. Those people have no idea how much a little note did for us, for our morale. The care packages they sent, the e-mails; unbelievable."

The father of two teen-agers, Howard Price Hunt IV, 16, and Bebe Hanna, 14, said his family support was invaluable.

"My wife's support allowed me to be totally focused on my mission and is the primary reason I was as successful as I was," said Hunt, speaking of his wife, Aprile,a singer who has performed at numerous patriotic celebrations. "She became well-known in our unit because of letters she sent to everyone."

On May 5, Hunt deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, taking command of 1,500 people and 79 airlift, fighter, tanker and reconnaissance aircraft representing three coalition countries.

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