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Group mission inactivates at Keflavik, Iceland

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFPN) -- The 85th Group, a tenant unit at Naval Air Station, Keflavik, Iceland, marked 55 years of heritage and cooperation during an inactivation ceremony there June 28.

"From fighters to helicopters, AWACS to tankers, NAS Keflavik has seen almost every aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory transitioned through here over the years," said Brig. Gen. Robert Steel, 48th Fighter Wing commander.

During the ceremony, Col. Phillip Gibbons, 85th Group commander, relinquished command and encased the group colors.

The 85th Group, which was aligned under the 48th Fighter Wing, consisted of seven squadrons and more than 1,300 people. The group was responsible for day-to-day flight operations of HH-60 Pave Hawks, KC-135 Stratotankers and F-15 Eagles.

The U.S. military presence in the country began in 1941 at the request of the Government of Iceland fearing an invasion by Germany. At the end of the war U.S. forces withdrew.

In 1949, Iceland became a member of the NATO and U.S. forces returned.

The Air Force group survived growing pains such as designation and airframe changes, including the transition from the Army Air Corps to the U.S. Navy assumption of control and more.

Another success came on Dec. 7, 2001, when the 56th Rescue Squadron was credited with completing its 70th lifesaving mission during its 14 months in Iceland. Members of the squadron responded to a distress call from an Icelandic fishing vessel that lost power in gale force winds and heavy seas.

Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Jay Lane was presented with the Gold Medal of Valor of the Republic of Iceland for his actions during the rescue. From 1971 to April 2003 the 56th RQS made 308 saves during rescue operations.

The group's rescue operations were not just confined to Iceland. Three helicopters and more than 60 personnel deployed to Sierra Leone, Africa, in July 2003 in support of Joint Task Force Liberia. The 56th RQS once again saved lives by extracting people from the U.S. Embassy there and providing a peacekeeping presence over the city of Monrovia during civil unrest.

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