Airmen from the 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron conduct training March 7 on a .50-caliber machine gun at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. The primary mission of the U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel. (Tech. Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr. / Air Force)
After four decades, multiple wars and countless troop and civilian rescues, the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard has surpassed a major milestone: 1,000 rescues.
On May 18, crews from the wing rescued an Afghan National Army solider who had been shot in southeast Afghanistan. “Like so many before him, the soldier was rescued, treated and safely returned to advanced medical care so that he may live another day,” wing commander Col. Steven J. Butow said in a message to wing personnel.
That rescue was the 1,000th since the then-129th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group made its first rescue during a Red Flag combat exercise in 1977. Since then, airmen associated with the group or wing have made more than 400 combat rescues and almost 600 civilian saves. The wing’s home station is Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif.
More than 70 percent of the crew’s saves have been in the past 10 years, with 40 percent of those in combat, Butow said. To count as a “save,” crews assigned to the wing must rescue an individual who is in danger of death, loss of a limb or loss of eyesight, according to the Air Force.
Recent missions include the rescue of an injured crewman aboard a Marshall Islands merchant ship about 300 miles off the coast of Mexico in November 2012. The rescue involved treatment during a two-hour flight, according to an Air Force release.
Two weeks before the 1,000th rescue, the wing saved five lives in two missions more than 7,500 miles apart, according to an Air Force release. While crews were rescuing troops and Afghan nationals in Afghanistan, another Pave Hawk crew from the wing rescued an ill passenger on a cruise ship off the coast of California.