SOUTHWEST ASIA --
Coalition aircrews flying out of multiple locations throughout Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve can sleep a little more peacefully at night knowing that the men and women of the 1st Expeditionary Rescue Group - Operating Location Alpha stand ready to assist in their darkest hour.
Operating out of a compound centrally located to the fight, HH-60G Pave Hawk pilots, special missions aviators, pararescuemen, maintainers, and a small team of support staff work 24/7 to maintain readiness for a call nobody wants to receive. The unit consists of professionals from the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, 52nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Detachment 1, and 801st Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Detachment 1.
“Our combat search and rescue capabilities allow other Airmen out there flying to do their jobs confidently, because they know that we’ll be there to pick them up if anything unfortunate happens,” said a 46th ERQS pilot. “We maintain a constant alert posture so that we always have teams either on-alert and ready to go, or resting up and staying fresh.”
At home and abroad, their mission is to provide rapidly deployable, expeditionary, and agile CSAR forces to theater commanders in response to contingency operations worldwide. Rescue teams are typically comprised of two pilots operating the aircraft; two special missions aviators responsible for various inspections, in-flight tasks and on-board weapons employment; and a team of pararescue professionals trained in all aspects of personnel recovery and medical treatment in combat environments. These specialists that make up the Air Force rescue community realize that while their services may not be needed often, the gravely serious nature of their work means that complacency is never an option.
“The camaraderie among everybody here is very strong, and expectations for each other are very high,” said a 52nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pararesecue team lead. “We maintain a rigorous training cycle. Though our primary focus will always be the recovery of the isolated person on the ground, we also make time to train to our other mission sets. We’re constantly preparing for what the next fight could bring, or what the current fight could develop into.”
Mission accomplishment though, starts on the ground. The success of the unit depends entirely on another crucial part of the team in aircraft maintenance, and their ability to keep a small fleet of aircraft ready at all times. Demanding desert conditions and in-flight vibrations inherent to helicopters are especially taxing on aircraft components, leaving no room for lapses in attention to detail for maintenance professionals powering through 12-hour shifts.
“After each flight the aircrew goes over the bird and we can get specific issues addressed pretty quickly,” said Senior Airman Cody Dost, 801st Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “We do 3-day pre-flights, we check the hoist every single time it’s used, and we’re responsible for periodic inspections of every component on the aircraft.”
The 1st ERG- OLA is a small unit of Airmen trained in a wide range of specialties, coming together with intense focus on one very specific goal. The effect of their presence is difficult to display in numbers and charts – but to coalition forces in harm’s way, there is no doubt as to their impact.