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Alaska Air Guard Supports CJTF-HOA Rescue Missions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma
  • CJTF-HOA Public Affairs Office
There is a team made entirely of Alaska Air National Guard Airmen, who are trained to take any lead during rescue operations in order to report, locate, support, and recover isolated personnel to save lives by placing others before themselves.
  
The 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron is one of the three Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons assigned to the 449th Air Expeditionary Group in support of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The squadron is the epitome of the Total Force Integration, providing seamless operations between Active Duty, Guard and Reserve forces.

“Whether or not you’re a Guard unit, the Air Force is still the Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Alexys Lang, the 81st ERQS director of operations and an HC-130 navigator. “We bring a flying squadron that looks like any other Air Force flying squadron and we are tasked to execute and solve the same problems.”
The Airmen of the 81st ERQS are trained to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery missions to include combat search and rescue, casualty evacuation, and non-combatant evacuation operations in the East Africa area of interest or anywhere around the world.
  
Their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to aid others is reflected in their creed: “These things we do, that others may live.”

The 81st ERQS utilizes their airframe, the HC-130 Combat King, to provide a personnel recovery capability in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Capabilities of the HC-130 and aircrew include helicopter air-to-air refueling, communications relay, night vision googles operations, airdrop, forward area refueling point (FARP), and battlefield illumination operations.
  
“We have outstanding professionals and a unique mission here at the 81st,” said Lt. Col. Eric Budd, the 81st ERQS commander and an HC-130 pilot. “By joining capabilities with the other PR Task Force partners—the 303rd and 82nd ERQS—we have the ability to go out, pick up a survivor and bring them back for advanced care.”

With East Africa being a very large theater compared to the U.S., approximately 2.4 million square miles, range is a significant challenge for any military operation. The Combat King’s extended range and endurance are particularly well suited for the CJTF-HOA joint operating area.
   
Executing a rapid response in austere conditions requires these elite service members to always be prepared and ready to go wherever they are needed. The 81st ERQS maintains their capabilities by running through multiple scenarios with their team of pilots, flight engineers, navigators, radio operators, load masters and maintenance crew, each with a unique skill that is needed to make the mission a success.

Unlike active duty members who constantly change bases, these Air National Guard Airmen are permanently based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. They hone their skill sets through mission rehearsals and prosecute more real-world rescue missions than any other HC-130 rescue unit, averaging one mission—and one life saved—a week.
   
“It’s very rewarding to know that all that training is validated, and that all search and rescues that we do, translates to everything we do here,” said Lang.
The combined capabilities of CJTF-HOA and 81st ERQS provide a crisis response team capable of responding at a moment’s notice. This capability enables regional actors to neutralize violent extremist organizations and allows regional access and freedom of movement within East Africa in order to protect and defend U.S. interests and support our aligned regional efforts.

These airmen are proud of their role and the capabilities they provide; as Lt Col Budd stated, “The bottom line is, we are here to save lives.”