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Four rescue squadrons deploy, return together

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Rescue Airmen from the 23d Wing recently returned from a deployment where they provided around-the-clock personnel recovery coverage in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Working together to ensure someone’s worst day wasn’t their last day, the 71st, 41st, 48th and 55th Rescue Squadrons provided the airborne and ground components for U.S. Central Command’s  personnel recovery operations.

“One thing that set this deployment apart from others I’ve been on is that all three Rescue [components], the HC-130, HH-60 and Guardian Angels, were together in a single location,” said Lt. Col. Michael Thompson, 71st RQS director of operations. “We planned and executed together as a cohesive rescue team.

“We were on alert 24/7 to ensure that if there is ever an Airman, Sailor, Marine, or Soldier who is isolated, we are prepared to return them to friendly control,” Thompson explained.

The rescue teams remained on-call for more than 2,800 hours during the four-month deployment. Thompson added the rescue mission was crucial enough that if for some reason the teams were unavailable, operations could cease.

“Bottom line, if some form of personnel recovery is not available for our Airmen, they don’t fly,” Thompson said.

Rescue Airmen agree. While maintaining the standard for personnel recovery may be cut and dry, dismantling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a complex team effort with many moving parts.

“There’s a lot of our U.S., joint or coalition partners out there taking it to the enemy,” said Lt. Col. Chris Richardson, 41st RQS commander. “It’s our job to make sure those guys don’t fall into enemy hands, and these guys are the cream of the crop. Whenever we make the promise that nobody will be left behind, we hold to that oath. We’re coming to get you.”

Even though these Airmen constantly train for rescue missions, weather and logistics were obstacles that created challenges during the deployment.   

“The first week we were in theater, our location was hit by a winter storm, which reduced our alert posture,” Thompson said. “At one point, we even sent an aircraft to a forward base to be certain we could launch on a mission if we were called upon.

“The other obstacle, logistics, also affected us," Thompson added. "Being at forward operating locations forced us to be flexible and come up with creative ways to ensure we were able to maintain alert [status.]”

Maintaining alert status allowed the crews to provide the Combined Forces Air Component Commander everything needed to conduct the ongoing war against ISIS.

“It was great to show how the work we put in at home pays off directly when we deploy,” Thompson said. “It’s great to know, that if we ever have a downed Airman, we are ready to execute the rescue mission, ‘that others may live’.”