Air Commando selected to latest Portraits in Courage edition

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz named Staff Sgt. Kelsey Kent as one of 18 Airmen honored in the sixth volume of Portraits in Courage during an address at the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition at National Harbor, Md., Sept. 20.

Each year, Air Force leadership highlights Airmen who demonstrate service before self and exemplify the characteristics of the Airmen who serve in today's Air Force in the Portraits in Courage publication. Sergeant Kent, a 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron power production specialist, received recognition for his efforts supporting humanitarian relief operations with a small team of 353rd Special Operations Group Airmen at Sendai Airport during Operation Tomodachi.

"When I was supporting operations at the airport, I wasn't thinking of anything but the task at hand," said Sergeant Kent. "The thought of being recognized, especially with something this prestigious, never came up. We had a very important mission to do. There were a lot of people in need and we focused on doing our part to help provide them with any relief we could. I'm grateful just to be a part of the mission there knowing our work provided a capability to help people in need. Being selected for Portraits in Courage just adds to the satisfaction I already have from doing my part to help the Japanese people."

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Japan, hit triggering a 30-foot tsunami, killing thousands while devastating coastal villages and much of the northeast Japanese countryside. Within a few days, Airmen from the 353rd SOG deployed to Yokota Air Base to support relief efforts. Sergeant Kent was quick to volunteer for the deployment.

"I was at home watching the devastation on the news," he said. "Being part of a special operations unit, I knew it was just a matter of time before I would have the opportunity to support relief efforts."

Sergeant Kent's role in Operation Tomodachi kicked off a day after Special Tactics Airmen from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron assisted Japanese officials in opening Sendai Airport March 16.

As a power production specialist, Sergeant Kent is trained on operating and maintaining portable generators that provide power in the most austere locations. Upon arriving at the airport, Sergeant Kent discovered that none of the airport's transformers worked as a result of the tsunami. The taxiways and runways were also critically damaged by flooding, so much so that the flood waters reached the second level of the passenger terminal.

After assessing the damage, he went straight to work. Laboring for more than 36-hours straight, Sergeant Kent singlehandedly established diesel-run generator power, and soon the Air Force Special Tactics team was able to expand their operations and use Sendai Airport as a base for their humanitarian relief operations.

For three weeks, Sergeant Kent worked through countless powerful aftershocks and under the constant threat from unknown amounts of radiation emanating from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Eighteen to twenty hours workdays were normal -- all necessary to provide power to more than 250 U.S. military members and three separate command centers that brought humanitarian relief directly to the Japanese.

But just doing traditional power plant duties wasn't enough for Sergeant Kent. Garnering the nickname "Clark" for his Superman-like efforts, he marshaled pallet loaders, drove forklifts, loaded and unloaded tons of relief supplies, and refueled vehicles.

"The most important thing for people to realize is that my job there was to support the Special Tactics Airmen doing what I consider the real mission at the airport," Sergeant Kent said. "Everything I did was because these guys have very unique skills and were able to open the runway. Without them, I had no mission at Sendai. They are the true heroes and it's my honor to say I supported them."

For those who saw Sergeant Kent in action at Sendai, they feel he definitely deserves recognition for his work.

"It truly is hard to put into words the outstanding support Sergeant Kent provided at Sendai," said Chief Master Sgt. Victoria Gamble, the Command Chief Master Sergeant for the 353rd SOG and Joint Force Special Operations Component during Operation Tomodachi. "Under harsh weather conditions and during a very challenging, demanding mission, he worked as the sole individual to provide power to hundreds of people supporting relief operations at the airport. Cold, tired and dirty from long days at the devastated airport, he never complained and pitched in anywhere he could. I have no doubt Sergeant Kent was vital to our success at Sendai Airport. He truly earned this recognition."

His individual efforts helped bring more than 2.4 million pounds of equipment and relief supplies to Japan, in addition to the first fuel load to a local hospital in Sendai to operate its generators. Sergeant Kent was also nominated for the Joint Service Achievement Medal for his efforts.