176th Wing delivers rescue capabilities across Pacific
Kadena Air Base, Japan -- Alaska Air National Guardsmen from the 176th Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, conducted a long-range search and rescue training exercise with Airmen here from the 31st Rescue Squadron Oct. 31, 2015, near the coast of White Beach Naval Base.
A 212th RQS guardian angel rescue team was delivered across the Pacific Ocean on a nearly 12-hour, nonstop flight aboard a C-17 Globemaster from the 249th Airlift Squadron along with two rescue craft.
"In this situation, if there was a distressed vessel in the Pacific that no one could reach," said Maj. Aaron Zamora, 212th RQS combat rescue officer team commander, "the 176th Wing could launch one of our organic C-17s with a guardian angel team and all the boats and equipment we need to airdrop to the survivor."
The team of six was airdropped into the water along with two rescue craft, called a guardian angel rescue craft and a rigged alternate method zodiac, to conduct a mock search and rescue operation.
A boat party from the 31st RQS met with the jumpers in the drop zone to recover parachutes and debris from dropped pallets.
"This training identified many challenges, from the basic interoperability of active and guard forces, to the complexity of inserting a PJ team from 4,400 miles away," said Maj. Patrick Lowe, 31st RQS director of operations. "We met this challenge as a 'total integrated force' team with early coordination, constant communication and a willingness to help each other."
The Globemaster received in-flight refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 168th Air Refueling Squadron as it flew across the Pacific Ocean. An HH-60 Pave Hawk was also carried aboard the C-17, with a maintenance team and aircrew to extract the guardian angel team if needed.
The completion of the training validated the 176th Wing's long range search and rescue capabilities, assuring that the involved rescue units are ready to work together to save lives at a moment's notice.
Upon the guardsmen's departure in Alaska, snow was falling, a stark contrast to Okinawa's tropical climate. Zamora said his team is used to opening up packages wearing thick dry-suits in freezing conditions.
The 176th Wing has four crews who are trained to conduct specialized airdrop rescue missions and the 249th AS is the only C-17 unit qualified to deliver rescue jumpmaster procedures.
Modern Search and Rescue has evolved drastically over the past few decades as a result of the Air Force's increased need for power projection said Lowe. This innovative training has proven that long range SAR is viable as a means to mitigate risk to Airmen, regardless of vast distances.
With a presence of Airmen around the globe, rescue units frequently need to train together in order to provide aid to anyone, anytime, and anywhere.