MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Editor's note: The mention of the nonprofit organization That Others May Live does not constitute endorsement or affiliation by Moody AFB or the U.S. Air Force.
The 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) was presented the That Others May Live Foundation’s (TOMLF) 2017 Rescue Squadron of the Year Award Oct. 21 in Melbourne, Florida.
The annual award is presented to one Air Force rescue unit for outstanding overall squadron success including mission results, combat readiness, unit and individual accomplishments, civilian and military education, and community relations impact.
“It makes me proud because we are one of the only fixed wing assets in rescue,” said Tech Sgt. Curtis Copeland, 71st RQS loadmaster. “I haven’t been in rescue long, but I know awards like this don’t typically go to HC-130 squadrons. It’s a huge deal for us because we feel proud of what we’ve done to get there.”
Between July 2016 and June 2017, the 71st RQS Airmen proved they were “the best-of-the-best" in combat search and rescue during a variety of contingency operations.
“It’s nice somebody acknowledges [our work],” said Capt. Marcela Leano, 71st RQS HC-130J Combat King II pilot. “Our hard work is actually affecting people and making a difference even if it’s not right there all the time in the headlines; it’s still pretty critical.”
They had members deployed throughout the entire 12-month award period. During this timeframe, they flew 235 combat missions and provided around-the-clock personnel recovery support for geographic combatant commanders from U.S. Africa and Central Command.
Although members of their squadron were constantly downrange, those at home station continued to embody rescue excellence by providing defense support to civil authorities during natural disasters and integrating in a cross-command exercise as the sole personnel recovery asset.
“We did a lot of different things we don’t usually do, which I think is what’s huge for us this time around,” Copeland said. “We did things like counter-drug operations in South America, where we ended up interdicting almost two-and-a-half-tons of cocaine.”
Charged with saving lives as their primary objective, the 71st stepped outside of their normal realm and sought different opportunities to further enhance the full spectrum of their personnel recovery capabilities. They flew the first U.S. Air Force high speed air-to-air refueling alongside a U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II and commanded the first F-22 Raptor forward arming and refueling.
In addition to their many mission successes, the unit also flew three East Coast Airpower Demonstrations showcasing their capabilities to Congress, garnered the 347th Rescue Group Volunteer of the Year Award, and graduated from countless educational programs.
According to Copeland, this past year the squadron was on constant rotations and missions so all of these accomplishments seemed like just another day at the time, but they were good enough to win a TOML award and that’s pretty cool.
Copeland plans to celebrate this rescue win by doing what garnered him and his fellow Airman this award -- working.
“I think we’re just going to use [this award] as our benchmark and keep grinding,” Copeland said. “I don’t see us slowing down anytime in the future. It gives us something to strive for next year.”