If you were lost, injured and scared in the backcountry of Alaska, what would you do? Would you pray to be rescued – by a guardian angel?
The Guardian Angels of the Alaska Air National Guard.
ECHO editor, Elizabeth Pearch and I were recently invited to attend a media event to meet the Rescue Tirad Airmen at JBER. The Triad has three functional areas to search and rescue. The 210 Rescue Squadron which is the aircrew of the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, the 211 Rescue Squadron the crew of the HC-130J fixed-wing aircraft and the 211 Guardian Angels with its Combat Rescue Officers and Pararescueman (PJ’s).
It was a full day starting early at 7:00 AM. From the Elmendorf gate, we were escorted to our first stop, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center which serves as the coordinating agency for search and rescue operations. LTC Keenan Zerkel Director of the center briefed us on what happens after a call for help is made and referred to the AKRCC.
Our next stop, was to the 176th Operations Group to meet with pilots and crew members of the 210th and 211th.
It was explained that after receiving all the available information and accessing the situation, decisions are made to launch the Pave Hawk helicopter, the HC-130J or both. The plane can usually get to the scene faster and can see first hand the situation on the ground and direct the helicopter when it arrives if necessary.
Our last stop was at the airfield where we boarded an HC-130J for an approximate four-hour flight conducting a search and rescue training mission. Included in this mission were two airdrops of supplies: one heavy and one lighter, all on pallets. Then, we watched three Pararescueman make a high altitude – low opening (HALO) free fall jump from the rear of the plane, simulating making a rescue for someone injured. Then lastly, we watched the crew of the HC-130J dropping simulated supplies such as hand-held radios out the side door of the aircraft while the pilots flew the aircraft low to the ground.
The officers and crew made themselves available for photos and questions including a visit to the cockpit, which provided for an opportunity to observe the pilots and navigators flying the aircraft.
For Alaskans who like to hunt, fish, hike, ski, boat, climb mountains and more, it’s reassuring that the Guardian Angels are there to help in any situation if the need arises.
Here are the numbers for 2018:
495 Hours Flown
80 Lives Saved
The men and women of the United States Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard Rescue Triad are true professionals and excel at what they do. It’s evident from our tour they take their jobs very seriously and train extensively to protect us. For that, we all should be thankful – to our Guardian Angels.