Turn to Tara: Elite military unit in New York played vital role in taking down Chinese balloon

The Turn To Tara team spoke with Maj. Gen. Denise Donnell, the first female to command the 5,900 members of New York's Air National Guard.

News 12 Staff

Feb 7, 2023, 10:49 PM

Updated 472 days ago

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An elite military team based in New York played a major role in taking down the Chinese surveillance balloon, News 12 has learned.  
The suspected Chinese spy balloon - about the size of three school buses - was shot down Saturday off the coast of South Carolina.  
The Turn To Tara team was given exclusive access to Stewart Air National Guard Base and got a chance to be on board a C17 Globemaster with Maj. Gen. Denise Donnell, the first female to command the 5,900 members of New York's Air National Guard.
It was Donnell's first interview since the dramatic takedown of the surveillance craft.
"Although it went off the coast of the Carolinas, New Yorkers were involved in that effort," said Donnell. "A lot of things in the military we don't brag about, we do our jobs professionally with the greatest ability we can. "
Donnell described to News 12 the actions of the elite unit known as the Eastern Air Defense Sector, whose primary goal is to monitor the safety of the skies across the country.
"They monitor everything east of the Mississippi," says Donnell. "For example, on Sept. 11, there's audio of controllers from Eastern Air Defense Sector talking and coordinating…with fighter jets for shadowing Flight 93."
Last week, the highly trained team of specialists who are based in New York, were working in tandem with the Pentagon as the balloon was seen flying over Montana and then ultimately over to the Carolinas.
"Talk about tense moments...absolutely. It's humbling and being part of that moment in history," says Donnell.
The history making moment is not without controversy. Criticism is mounting among top Republicans who have accused the Biden administration of taking too long to shoot down the balloon.
Donnell did not want to discuss politics but did explain the military's significance of the mission's timing.
"I think a lot of people put a lot of thought and how to do that best without endangering people on the ground and ensuring that our nation is safe," she said. "The Eastern Air Sector, they know what they did, and I have seen it in their faces of airmen how proud they are.  That pride and competence is powerful and the New Yorkers should be very proud of their Air National Guard."
Donnell says she plans on visiting the members of the Eastern Air Defense Sector face to face this Friday to congratulate them on a successful mission.


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