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Michigan to Liberia

A 127th Security Forces Squadron Airman stands off the wing of a Tennessee Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. On this mission, one KC-135 and crew from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., and another KC-135 from Tennessee were providing transportation to the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical), a Camp Grayling, Mich.-based unit which was working on a construction project in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Liberia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

A 127th Security Forces Squadron Airman stands off the wing of a Tennessee Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. On this mission, one KC-135 and crew from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., and another KC-135 from Tennessee were providing transportation to the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical), a Camp Grayling, Mich.-based unit which was working on a construction project in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Liberia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Master Sgt. Joe Lapinta briefs Soldiers of the 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical) prior to take-off on a KC-135 Stratotanker on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. Lapinta is a boom operator with the 171st Air Refueling Squadron. The Soldiers had just completed a two-week mission in Liberia. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. Both the 171st and the 1434th are components of the Michigan National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Master Sgt. Joe Lapinta briefs Soldiers of the 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical) prior to take-off on a KC-135 Stratotanker on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. Lapinta is a boom operator with the 171st Air Refueling Squadron. The Soldiers had just completed a two-week mission in Liberia. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. Both the 171st and the 1434th are components of the Michigan National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

A Michigan Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker is seen under the night sky in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. On this mission, a KC-135 and crew from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., were providing transportation to the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical), a Camp Grayling, Mich.-based unit which was working on a construction project in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Liberia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

A Michigan Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker is seen under the night sky in Monrovia, Liberia, Dec. 9, 2015. The Michigan National Guard has a State Partnership for Peace agreement with Liberia and members of the Michigan National Guard make periodic trips to and from Liberia to support the partnership. On this mission, a KC-135 and crew from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., were providing transportation to the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical), a Camp Grayling, Mich.-based unit which was working on a construction project in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Liberia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

AIRBORNE OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN -- Michigan to the World.

It was a Navy Reserve Sailor, stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base some years ago, who coined the  phrase: "Michigan to the World."

Over the years, various catchphrases and slogans have been used at Selfridge: Michigan's Hometown Air Force, the Home of Generals, Home of the Mig Killers, the Most Diverse Base in the Nation. The Generals slogan goes back to World War II. The Mig Killers name was born of the Korean War.

Flying home from Liberia on a KC-135 Stratotanker with a couple of dozen Michigan Army National Guard Soldiers on board on a recent December morning -- somewhere in the quick trip across the Atlantic Ocean and back I lost track of what day it was -- I couldn't help but think about that "Michigan to the World" slogan.

The Soldiers, all from the 1434th Engineer Company (Vertical) from Camp Grayling, had been in Liberia for a couple of weeks, working on a construction project with the Armed Forces of Liberia. The 127th Air Refueling Group from Selfridge was giving them a ride. They were kind enough to let a Public Affairs Airman from 127th Wing headquarters - that's me - tag along.

About a half dozen years ago, the Michigan National Guard entered into a State Partnership for Peace relationship with Liberia. The SPP is a hugely successful program run by the National Guard Bureau that aligns states with emerging nations. They learn about us. We learn about them. And the ultimate goal, as the program's title suggests, is peace.

Michigan was a leader in the SPP program. The Great Lakes State was among the first half dozen states to take on a partner - Latvia - when  the program was launched more than 20 years ago. Today, Michigan and Latvian Soldiers and Airmen routinely train together and troops from both nations frequently make the trip to and from Europe and the U.S. I personally have bumped into Latvian Soldiers working alongside Michigan Soldiers in four different U.S. states and a half dozen foreign countries.

When the SPP program was expanding a few years ago and a number of states began to take on a second partner, Michigan again raised its hand and was partnered with Liberia in Africa.

And so it was that a plane-full of Joes were headed home on a recent December day, some two weeks before Christmas - a good time to think of peace in the world.

One of the things that often happens when Selfridge Airmen travel overseas is an unofficial collection is taken up. With the donations, the Selfridge troops talk to their counterparts and find out if something can be contributed from the U.S. to benefit our partners. In December alone, a few boxes of goods were sent along to one of the U.S. military hospitals in Germany and we brought a few items with us to Liberia for distribution to a children's program. These unofficial collections build friendships. Very often, the Michigan Airmen will take some of the patches off their uniforms and give them as a gift to the people they meet in these places. That's how two airport workers ended up sporting new patches on this day: one an Air National Guard shield, the other the 171st Air Refueling Squadron logo. It is a small thing perhaps, but it brings a bit of Michigan to the World.

Through souvenirs and sometimes just through stories and experiences, I always bring a little of the world home with me to Michigan. Sometimes Latvia, sometimes Liberia, sometimes who knows where next.

Michigan to the World?

Indeed.

About the 127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command operations by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 98th year of continuous military air operations in 2015.