Citizen Airmen conduct long-range rescue of cruise passenger


PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Within two hours of the call, Citizen Airmen with 920th Rescue Wing took to the skies bound for a cruise ship roughly 500 miles off the Florida coastline carrying an elderly passenger suffering an acute condition and in need of medical evacuation Nov. 7, 2017.

The long-range mission, requiring two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, Guardian Angel pararescue teams, and an HC-130N King fixed-wing combat aerial refueler, lasted roughly eight hours and ended with the patient and his spouse being safely transported to Holmes Regional Medical Center, Melbourne, Florida.

The initial call went out to the Coast Guard District 5, Portsmouth, Virginia, who then reached out to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, late that morning.

“The RCC had already reached a conclusion before calling the 920th RQW that no other assets could reach the cruise ship in time due to the distance,” said Col. Michael LoForti, 920th Operations Group commander. “It wasn’t a matter if we would help, but could we assist in the rescue effort.”

A meeting was called with the squadron commanders and maintenance to determine if the manpower and assets were available to accept the mission.

“It took less than a minute to make the call,” LoForti said. “We generated the aircrew, aircraft, pararescue teams, and a mission plan, and were able to launch in a matter of hours.”

The plan entailed travelling hundreds of miles to the ship bound for Baltimore, Maryland; lowering two pararescuemen onto the ship; hoisting the patient and his spouse onto the helicopter; and transporting them the hospital.

“It was great seeing everyone come together from maintenance to the aircrew and Guardian Angel rescue teams to make this thing happen,” said 1st Lt. Courtney McCallan, 301st Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter pilot. “I’m glad we could help.”

McCallan piloted the lead aircraft during the mission, watching overhead in an offset position as the second helicopter team conducted the rescue. It was shortly after sunset when the special missions aviation specialist aboard the second hovering Pave Hawk lowered two pararescuemen about 35-feet down onto the ship’s top deck, which sat about 100 feet above the water. After making contact with the patient’s doctor on the ship, the rescue specialists loaded the man into a Stokes basket, a litter made of metal, and hoisted him into the aircraft.

“Even with obstacles like limited visibility with our night vision goggles and having to hover over a moving vessel, they executed the mission flawlessly,” said McCallan.

Shortly after heading back to Florida, the 39th Rescue Squadron’s HC-130N crew lowered the fuel lines for one last air-to-air refueling before the crews dropped off their passengers and headed back to Patrick AFB. The HC-130N crew conducted a total of three air-to-air refuelings during the mission, supplying approximately 15,400 pounds of gas to the helicopters.

“We train for these types of missions often, but when you actually get to put those skills to work and save someone’s life, it’s a pretty fulfilling thing,” said Lt. Col. Bob Seitz, 39th RQS director of operations.

Both the HC-130N and HH-60 crews emphasized the key role maintenance played in the success of the mission, being able to generate all the aircraft necessary so quickly.

“When we hear real-world search and rescue then everything kicks into high gear, and everyone pulls together to make it happen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Grant, 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Helicopter Maintenance Unit superintendent. “We have extremely talented and dedicated individuals in our maintenance complex all with the same goal, and that is to provide the safest, most reliable aircraft for our operators we can. The advantage the Citizen Airmen bring is the experience on the various aircraft. We have individuals that have over 20 years on the airframes.”

LoForti said he is proud of the hard work put forth by the wing’s Citizen Airmen in yet another successful rescue. The 920th Rescue Wing has saved 238 people and 26 pets in the last five months to include two German boaters stranded at sea after their sailboat caught fire and sank as well as victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“The men and women of the 920th Rescue Wing continue to amaze me in their ability to execute challenging short-notice missions” said Loforti. “I’m proud to be a small part of such a motivated wing.”

Original Story here:

Airmen test combat search, rescue skills during Pacific Thunder

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) — One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017.

With more than 20 U.S. squadrons and nine South Korean air force wings involved, this year’s exercise is the largest to date. Pacific Thunder provides the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts.

“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron and has since grown into a (Pacific Air Forces) level exercise,” said Capt. Travis Vayda, 25th FS Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.

Although the annual exercise features a range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th FS and 33rd RQS.

“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the body guards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR, you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”

During the exercise, the 33rd RQS is able to directly work with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the 25th FS, a conjoined training that both units typically have to simulate.

“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Capt. Dirk Strykowski, 33rd RQS HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena (Air Base, Japan), we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take away from the exercise.”

Pararescuemen and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists from the 31st RQS provide more realism by acting as isolated personnel.

“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” Strykowski said. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”

Through combined CSAR training, Pacific Thunder enhances the combat effectiveness between U.S. and South Korean air forces. Exercises like Pacific Thunder highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between U.S. and South Korean forces, helping to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region

Link to original story: 

106th Rescue Wing Supports Hurricane Harvey Victims

Story by Airman 1st Class Daniel Farrell 

106th Rescue Wing/Public Affairs

Some members of the New York National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing are active guard reserve, full-time technicians and government contractors, however many are not.

The majority of the 106th Rescue Wing is comprised of citizen soldiers, often referred to as Minute Men. They are police dispatchers and officers, teachers, computer technicians, fire fighters,
construction workers, Wall Street stock financers, doctors and even a Washington based lawyer.

But when Texas called for help, New York and many Air National Guard units throughout the country answered the call.

The 106th Rescue Wing responded in support of the Hurricane Harvey rescue and relief effort in Texas on August 26, 2017.

The 106th Wing Commander Michael W. Bank put the wing into action and within 24 hours the members of the 106th had packed two C-17 Globemaster III, from the 105th Air Wing assigned to the
New York Air National Guard, with three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, four Zodiac boats, a truck and equipment necessary to carry out the missions.

The 106th Rescue Wing also sent down an HC-130 search and rescue aircraft.

Folding three Pave Hawk helicopters and loading them onto a C-17 is no easy feat. It takes two to three hours just to fold the Pave Hawk helicopters, and two to three hours to load them into the
aircraft, said Senior Airman Kenneth J. Kiefer, a helicopter crew chief with the 106th Maintenance Group.

The members of the 106th Maintenance Group worked long days and late nights under conditions that ranged from swift winds and rain to blue skies under a hot sun. However, they were up for the

“Our maintainers unloaded, unfolded our HH-60s in minimal time and kept both the HC-130s and HH-60s flying throughout the duration of the rescue,” said Lt. Col. Robert Siebelts, the 106th
Maintenance Squadron commander. “They all stepped up and did an outstanding job.”

On the operational side, the members of the 106th had no shortage of harrowing rescues.

While rescuing a family of five, with all focus on one side of the Pave Hawk helicopter, Master Sgt. Joseph Napolitano, a special mission aviator with the 106th’s 101st Rescue Squadron, remained
diligent spotting a towel and a pair legs hanging out of a house window while he sat in position on his side of the Pave Hawk helicopter.

“Nobody saw it,” said Napolitano. “I was pretty adamant about it.”

Had it not been for Napolitano’s diligence, the crew would have thought they were deceased and left the area.

In another rescue, Senior Airman John J. Kosequat and Staff Sgt. Ryan R. Dush, both Pararescuemen with the 106th’s 103rd Rescue Squadron, and fathers to young children, rescued an infant from a
home taken by flood waters.

Dush was able to secure the infant safely to his body using a babybjorn style harness, he then began doing his fatherly duties by making sure there were no pinch points or constraints that would injure
the baby during the 60ft hoist to a hovering Pave Hawk helicopter.

“It was really emotional,” said Dush. “Just knowing you don’t want anything bad to happen to this small child.”

The boat crews from the 106th Rescue Wing, operating in the greater Houston area, at times went door to door, block by block, in medium to large scale evacuations. The members spent their nights
in the field, sleeping in warehouses, fire departments, police departments and even an abandoned house. At best, they were able to get a cot.

“We wanted to have a minimal footprint on local resources while getting out the most for the people that needed the help,” said Maj. Sal Sferrazza, a Combat Rescue Officer with the 106th’s 103rd
Rescue Squadron. “These are people’s lives. We wanted to be that lasting impact on the ground and apply our abilities.”

Although the pararescuemen are the ones that drop from helicopters, it’s important to remember that it takes a crew made up of pilots, special missions aviators, as well as pararescuemen, for the
mission to be successful.

“Pilots and special mission aviators are vital to the mission,” said Maj. Glynn Weir, a Combat Rescue Officer with the 106th’s 103th Rescue Squadron. “We would never get to the spot and we could
never take those patients to the hospital on a boat.”

While C-130s flew over the Houston area controlling the air traffic of helicopters in the area, back at Fort Hood, Texas, members of the 106th Communication Squadron set up a Tactical Operations
Center, where Lt. Col. Geoffrey Petyak, the 106th Operations Group commander in charge of the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, ran the Rescue Coordination Center.

The Rescue Coordination Center received missions, or taskings, from Joint Operation Centers and Petyak coordinated the New York rescue forces that are in Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey,
said Lt. Col. Thomas Keany, the 106th Deputy Operations Group Commander.

“Texas was there for us when we needed them,” said Keany. “We are just happy to be down here for them, doing anything we can.”

The rescue response from this group of New York Air Guardsmen resulted in 546 total saves not to mention saving nearly two dozen pets. In the end, 124 members of the 106th Rescue Wing left New
York to come to the aid of those in need in Texas that others may live.

“I’m really proud of everyone,” said Petyak. “We are here to help Texas, and these guys worked extremely hard to save as many lives as possible.”