By Tech. Sgt. Michael Touchette, 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 03, 2016
Great Falls, Mont. -- Col. Lee Smith, Commander of the 120th Airlift Wing, showcased recent improvements and announced the end of the unit's conversion to the C-130 airlift mission at the Montana Air National Guard base during the October drill.
"The conversion process is complete," Smith said. "Today marks our first day since the end of conversion. We sent up an official memo to the Guard Bureau yesterday that we have completed our conversion and are now a fully operational C-130 wing."
Brig. Gen. Bryan Fox, Assistant Adjutant General - Air, Montana National Guard, Brig. Gen. Pete Hronek, Vice Chief of Joint Staff for the Montana National Guard, and State Command Chief Master Sgt. Tim Zumbrun were shown the progress made on the hanger construction project and the new unimproved landing zone.
Smith said now that the unit has completed its conversion the Airmen of the Montana Air National Guard are able to be tasked with missions, which includes deployment anywhere around the world.
"There will be some conversion projects that will continue well into the future," Smith said. "None of the work that remains impacts our ability to do our mission."
Maj. Todd Mortag, Base Civil Engineer, said the new 32,700 square feet corrosion control and fuels cell maintenance building is about 80 percent complete and the hanger conversion project, which added approximately 40 feet to the front of the existing hanger and a complete interior remodel, is about 90 percent complete.
"We are in the final stages of our construction projects," Mortag said.
Mortag added the unit's new corrosion control and fuel systems maintenance building is expected to be complete by the beginning of February 2017 and the renovation of the Montana Air National Guard hanger, originally built in 1957, is expected to be complete in November.
"Our maintainers have been doing their jobs without any maintenance facilities for over a year now and have done some amazing work," Smith said. "Now we are just really excited for them to have the opportunity to enjoy the world-class facilities they deserve."
Mortag said the contractors have done a fabulous job keeping to the construction schedule.
After touring the on-base facilities visitors were driven to the far west side of the airport where construction is underway on the unit's unimproved landing zone; a dirt landing strip.
Smith said the ability to land on a non-paved landing strip may be necessary at deployed expeditionary locations.
Mortag said the 60 feet by 3,500 feet landing zone, built in conjunction with the Great Falls Airport Authority, took approximately 70,000 cubic yards of material, which was placed and compacted in about 30 days, and will be a great benefit to the 120th AW once it is completed.
"The airport authority, under their project, is getting all the bulk material in place and graded and compacted to the appropriate specifications," Mortag said. "As we move forward with our overall facility improvement with the 120th Airlift Wing we'll be looking at potentially putting down some surface course, such as gravel, on top of this material in order to give it a longer life span."
The ability to land on a dirt landing zone is a special qualification that C-130 pilots have to have, Smith said.
"To have this here means that we don't have to travel somewhere else to get that qualification," Smith said. "More importantly, we now have a venue that other units can come here to train."
Smith said with the unimproved landing zone, a paved runway and several drop zones the unit is developing around the county he foresees the Montana Air National Guard having a premiere training venue for other C-130 units to come to Great Falls, Montana, to train.
"We have an upcoming deployment in the very near future that we are preparing for right now and our Airmen are super excited to do that because it's a brand new mission that many of them have never done before," Smith said. "This new mission is very exciting for them."
"I'm just wicked proud of my Airmen," Smith said.