66 RQS inactivates June 1

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  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

The 66th Rescue Squadron inactivated during a ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, June 1, 2023 for the second time in the unit’s history.

The 66 RQS falls under the 355th Wing but is located at Nellis AFB. The inactivation opens up additional space for a larger fighter presence at Nellis AFB as it transitions to the Fifth Generation Center of Excellence.

The 66th RQS was one of six Air Force active-duty HH-60 combat rescue units. Their primary mission was to provide rapidly deployable, expeditionary and agile combat search and rescue in response to contingency operations worldwide.

The squadron also conducted peacetime search and rescue in support of the National Search and Rescue Plan and the Air Warfare Center and directly supported the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter logistical and maintenance support requirements for the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and Air Combat Command-directed operational test missions.

“Our ability to integrate directly with the combat Air Force here at Nellis and have direct access to one of the greatest flying training areas in the country have both been amazing,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Terry Kostellic, 66th RQS commander. “Thousands have been removed from danger on some of the worst days of their lives because of the actions of rescue Airmen that have walked these hallways.  To me as an air rescue man, there is no greater impact.”

The 66th RQS first took to the air as the 66th Air Rescue Squadron on Nov. 14, 1952, at Royal Air Base Manston, England, flying C-119 “Flying Boxcar” transports, H-19 “Chickasaw” helicopters and SA-16 “Albatross” seaplanes. The 66 ARS was inactivated on Jan. 18, 1958.

On March 1, 1991, the unit was re-activated as the now as the 66 RQS, operating the HH-60G. Over the next three decades, the 66th RQS deployed in support of Operations, NORTHERN WATCH, SOUTHERN WATCH, OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.

During OIF, the Nellis Rescue Team conducted the first combat recovery of a downed fighter crew by a conventional CSAR unit since the Vietnam War. Two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars and 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to the 66th RQS aircrew for their heroic actions during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Rescue is a no-fail mission and the Airmen of the 66th have lived up to that requirement,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Eberhart, 66th RQS senior enlisted leader. “Their ability to adapt to any given situation is rooted in their heritage and there is no boundary on the impact they have made with the lives they have returned to their families over the years.”

The HH-60G Pave Hawks assigned to the unit are expected to be divested by the end of the fiscal year. The intent is to capitalize on existing expertise and repurpose some of the active-duty Airmen and civilian personnel to support the HH-60W Jolly Green IIs at Nellis AFB, while the remaining active-duty personnel will move on to new missions at other locations.

“As long as the Air Force sends Airmen into harm's way, there will always be a need for combat rescue,” Kostellic said. “Regardless of what the mission calls for, rescue will find a way to make it happen and get those in need to safety.”