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U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel McDonough, the commander of the 182nd Airlift Wing, Illinois Air National Guard, awards the Outstanding Airman of the Year award to wing-level winners in their workplaces in Peoria, Ill., Nov. 6-8 and 19, 2020.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jared Hildebrand, a C-130 flight engineer with the 169th Airlift Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, describes his job in an interview recorded Nov. 7, 2020, in Peoria, Ill. Flight engineers inspect and operate the mechanical systems of the aircraft.
In what’s become the most chaotic year in recent American history, the 182nd Airlift Wing took a formidable step towards normality July 2020, paved by months of balancing the so-called “new normal” with military operations. This is the story of four herculean months that won’t soon be forgotten.
Ann J. Ward was just 2.5 years old and Richard L. Ward II only 3 months old when their father perished in an F-84D Thunderstreak crash on Runway 31 of what is now the 182nd Airlift Wing at the General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport. Circumstance stole their chance to grow up with their father when his aircraft failed to reach safe flying speed, causing it to collide with terrain during a drill-weekend training flight. Tragedy could have closed the family’s chapter in Peoria that day, and yet 61 years later the Ward siblings found themselves reconnected with both blood and military family members Aug. 27, 2020, at the unit where their father last served.

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