South Carolina National Guard says “thank you” with Air Ground Expo

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters hovers while a wall of fire burns during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo combined arms demonstration at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the abilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews)

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters hovers while a wall of fire burns during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo combined arms demonstration at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the abilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews)

U.S. Army and Air National Guard personnel participate in the combined arms demo during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 6, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the capabilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

U.S. Army and Air National Guard personnel participate in the combined arms demo during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 6, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the capabilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers Parachute Team jumps with the American Flag during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the abilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews)

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers Parachute Team jumps with the American Flag during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the abilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews)

Spectators watch the air and ground demonstrations at the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the capabilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Spectators watch the air and ground demonstrations at the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. This expo is a combined arms demonstration showcasing the capabilities of South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Soldiers while saying thank you for the support of fellow South Carolinians and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- The South Carolina National Guard completed a successful weekend hosting its 2017 Air and Ground Expo. The event drew an estimated 70,000 visitors over three days and is the first expo held at McEntire Joint National Guard Base since 2009.

The expo was held as a way to say thank you to the people of South Carolina for their ongoing support, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, the Adjutant General of the South Carolina National Guard.

“This is a connection with the people of South Carolina to our community. The strength of our nation is the willpower and the people of our nation. We want to make sure they understand what they’re paying for and they also get a chance to see what their great men and women are doing,” Livingston said.

The expo was also part of the Department of Defense’s Vietnam Commemorative Partnership marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The South Carolina National Guard’s portion of this DoD partnership is called Welcome Home to Carolina Campaign. “We want to welcome in and thank our Vietnam veterans. We want the people of South Carolina to remember the sacrifices that the people of the Vietnam era performed for our country,” said Livingston.

169th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Nick Gentile explained why it’s been so long since the last airshow. “We’ve been on the road six of the last eight years in the summertime. This wing has been highly deployed. This is our chance to reach out to our South Carolina friends and say thank you for your support. This is bigger and better than anything we’ve done before,” Gentile said.

The expo began on Friday with a special Family Day and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Day for middle and high school students from across the state. More than 5,000 students and teachers participated in the unique learning experience showcasing both aircraft simulations, advanced technology demonstrations as well as hands on activities. The South Carolina National Guard partnered with STARBASE Swamp Fox, the Air Force Association and the South Carolina Department of Education to host STEM Day. “We reached out to middle and high school students with our STEM Day and we gave them a special look at what’s going on in the military and all the neat stuff we do,” said Livingston.

The families of National Guardsmen enjoyed a special preview Friday of all the flying demonstrations and performances as well as the more than 100 aircraft, military equipment and vehicle static displays.

McEntire Joint National Guard Base, 15 miles southeast of Columbia, is the perfect location for the expo given its location in the state, according to Gentile, a feature which also comes in handy for emergency response. “McEntire is South Carolina’s base. We’re able to do all types of domestic response. During the 1,000 year flood in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, we were hubbing here, getting fuel and we had four state’s helicopters as well as federal assets right here at this base. This is the capability we have here in the center of the state. That’s what we do for the citizens of South Carolina and we’re very proud of that unique distinction and capability as your National Guard,” Gentile said.

Saturday’s schedule commenced with opening ceremonies consisting of a ‘Salute to the Fallen’ ceremony. The South Carolina Military Department’s Honor Guard presented the colors followed by the 246th Army Band playing the National Anthem. Later, a 21-gun salute from 105mm Howitzers and the playing of Taps was followed by a South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 fly by executing a missing man formation. Special guest South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster presented Gen. Livingston a copy of a proclamation declaring May 6 and 7 as “South Carolina National Guard Community Appreciation Weekend.” The rest of the morning was filled with flying operations and aerial demonstrations from a host of performers including the U.S. Army Special Operations parachute team the ‘Black Daggers’, the Canadian Air Force’s CF-18 Demonstration Team, as well as several vintage aircraft and aerial acrobatic teams. Afternoon activities included the U.S. Navy’s F-18 Hornet Demonstration Team, the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team and heritage flights from F-4 and P-51 fighter jets. Notable civilian performers included the Aeroshell T-6 aerial acrobatic team, an F-86 Saber jet from the Korean War era, Gary Ward flying his MX-2 stunt plane and the Manfred Radius sailplane. A similar lineup of activities was repeated on Sunday.

On Saturday the famous Budweiser Clydesdales horses put in an appearance and several musical acts also performed throughout the weekend including country singer Michael Ray. Distinguished visitors during the course of the weekend included Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Joe Wilson and Gen. Carlos Bueno, the Chief of the Colombian Air Force. The Republic of Colombia is the South Carolina National Guard’s partner country in the State Partnership Program.

The highlight of each day was undoubtedly the joint air and ground exercise from the South Carolina National Guard known as the Combined Arms Demonstration or CAD. The CAD featured F-16 Fighting Falcons, AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopters, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, M1A1 Abrams tanks, M2A2 Bradley vehicles and M109 Paladin field artillery all working in unison. The CAD simulated a combat rescue of a downed Airman behind enemy lines. While the F-16s secured the airspace and orbited overhead, the Apache helicopters and armored vehicles along with infantry support defeated the enemy ground forces allowing the Blackhawk to land and rescue the pilot. Massive pyrotechnics were used in the CAD’s finale and provided some shock and awe for the assembled crowd which witnessed the fiery display. “We like big booms and we like to blow stuff up,” said Livingston.

The South Carolina National Guard is a community-based military organization with strong local ties and the men and women of the South Carolina National Guard are integral parts of their communities. Gen. Livingston spoke on behalf of all Guardsmen and their families when he concluded: “I just want to say to the people of South Carolina, I thank you so much for your support of what we do. You are our strength. You are our backbone. And we depend on you.”