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When you're in need of rescue, who you gonna call? Air Rescue!

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeffrey Macrander
  • 920th Rescue Wing Commander
An Air Force pilot is flying an F-117 Nighthawk back to base after a bombing mission near Belgrade, Serbia when a surface-to-air missile explodes just outside the aircraft. The blast severely damages the aircraft, sending it into a violent spin. As the Nighthawk tumbles uncontrollably out of the sky, the pilot ejects, and floats slowly down into enemy territory...

A Navy SEAL is isolated deep in Northeast Afghanistan after the rest of his team was killed in an ambush. He's badly wounded from the attack - multiple fractures and numerous shrapnel wounds, and a group of Taliban militia are closing in on him...

A civilian is on a fishing trip with four friends 15 miles off the coast of Jacksonville when his boat capsizes. He and three others decide to put on life jackets and swim to shore while the fifth stays with the crippled boat. But he becomes separated from his friends, and more than 24 hours later, he's still floating, miles from shore. All four of his companions have now been found, yet he's still treading water, exhausted and hypothermic, in a stretch of Atlantic Ocean home to some of the world's deadliest sharks...

Four civilians are in south Melbourne speeding along the St. Johns River on an airboat at dusk when their boat hits a tree root and overturns. One of the passengers, a 50-yr-old man, is launched into the alligator-infested waters. He's in critical condition, but the accident site isn't accessible by road, and his life depends on whether or not he can get to a hospital--and fast...

All of these are actual events. All the people in need of rescue in these stories are still alive today because of Air Rescue. And all of them were saved by reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing, who were simply doing a job we do here every day.

The 920th is composed of roughly 2,000 highly-dedicated men and women, all of whom stand ready to help save a life at a moment's notice. It's a call that may come while deployed to a forward location overseas or from a civil agency while we're here at home. We're the Air Force Reserve's only Rescue Wing, and we make up nearly 20 percent of all Air Combat Command's combat rescue forces.

In order to be able to answer the call to save a life, anywhere, anytime, our Airmen train constantly. Not only the traditional elements of rescue--HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, HC-130P/N long-range aerial refuelers, and pararescuemen--but our force support personnel as well; communications, maintenance, security forces and aeromedical personnel all contribute a critical piece to this life-saving mission.

In fact, as this article is published, we have security forces personnel on deployment overseas, both a pararescue squadron and helicopter rescue squadron on yearlong deployments to Africa, and we're preparing to send an HC-130 package out the door as well. One thing is for sure - Air Force rescue's operational tempo isn't slowing down.

In all, Air Force Reservists at Patrick, and at geographically-separated units in Arizona, Virginia and Oregon, have saved more than 3,000 lives since the wing's activation in 1956. That number includes more than 850 combat rescues and 1,043 lives saved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those numbers include the people mentioned at the beginning of this article:

The F-117 pilot was Lt. Col. Dale Zelko, who was saved by some of our pararescuemen roughly six hours after he bailed out of his aircraft during the Kosovo War.

The Navy SEAL was Marcus Luttrell, whose story was documented in the book and major motion picture "Lone Survivor." Our rescue crews saved Luttrell, then returned in the days after to recover the bodies of his fallen SEAL teammates.

The fisherman was Clinton Daughtry, who we pulled from the ocean Oct. 2, 2006 after more than a full day at sea. Daughtry traveled to Patrick AFB with his family three weeks after the accident to thank those involved with the rescue.

The 60-yr-old airboater was Mark Byers, who our helicopter crews located and delivered to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne Feb. 7, 2012 within an hour of receiving the call for help.

So, whether you're a combat pilot, a Navy SEAL or an average citizen, the next time you're in trouble and in need of rescue, who you gonna call?

Whoever you are, wherever you are, we'll be waiting, trained and ready, to answer your call.