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The nuts and bolts of combat search and rescue

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ryan Liss
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
In NASCAR, the drivers who win races get all the glory, while the team behind them fine tuning their cars for optimal performance, sometimes go unnoticed. It's no different in the 920th Rescue Wing. Behind the pilots is a team that works to ensure its combat search and rescue (CSAR) aircraft perform optimally in a race against the clock to save lives. This team is the 920th Maintenance Group.

Maintenance Airmen are the subject matter experts when it comes to keeping 920th HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130 P/N King refueling aircraft flying. Their expertise is vital when they are deployed supporting overseas operations because every aircraft launched is a life saved.

To see a slideshow of the maintainers mending a battlefield Pave Hawk, click here.

Recently, about two dozen maintenance Airmen and three helicopters returned from battle in Afghanistan after a four-month's of around-the-clock flying as part of a year-long deployment to save lives through medical evacuation operations.

Thanks to the tireless operations of the 920th maintainers, more than a 1,000 flights were launched resulting in 505 rescue missions flown, successfully saving 358 lives, while assisting in saving another 287. A 'save' is a situation where, without immediate intervention, a person would lose their life, a limb or eyesight.

Now that the personnel and the equipment have returned home, however, the mission doesn't stop. Because the 920th RQW assists in stateside search and rescue operations, the war-torn choppers have to be services for those responsibilities immediately.

"On average, it takes about a week to a week and a half to get a helo available when it returns from overseas," said Major Aaron Milner, 920th Maintenance Squadron Commander. However, this can vary due to a number of factors, from personnel availability to damage to the helicopter.

While bullets can be lethal, miniscule sand particles are the most damaging. Because of its tiny stature, removing the powdery granules tends to be the greatest challenge maintainers face when reconstituting aircraft.

"Engines are the biggest issue due to the mountainous dessert environment. They fly at a high altitude, and have high contamination due to blown sand. It affects their efficiency." said Master Sgt. Timothy Baxley, HH-60 crew chief.

With a mixture of people working on the CSAR aircraft, continuity is the key to keeping them in the air. Over the past six months, these machines have been worked on by Air Reserve Technicians (ARTs) and traditional reservists (TRs) both here and in Afghanistan. They maintain the continuity through a variety of checklists.

Prior to leaving for Afghanistan, the helicopter is inspected and packed up in a C-17 Globemaster III. When it comes back, the reconstitution checklist is cracked open, and the Pave Hawk is again inspected from head to toe. In between, personnel on both sides use computer programs to log updates, keeping everyone informed and leaving out any potential surprises.

"Ninety-nine percent of the stuff we know about it when it gets home, and everything done to it is kept in a log. The system is set up so one maintenance Airmen can pick up where another left off." said Baxley.

Some problems cannot be fixed overseas due to a priority levels, time or lack of equipment. Those open issues get logged and are remedied one-by-one at homestation. A mission equipment listing allows the maintainers to see and prioritize what has to be fixed on-site, and what can wait for a rainy day.

"For CSAR, which is the highest priority level, on-the-spot specialized repairs result in an ongoing high-speed recovery missions." said Technical Sergeant Bradley Doupe, 920th Maintenance Squadron HH-60 Avionics Technician.

Whether home or abroad, it takes a lot of moving parts to get CSAR aircraft off the ground. Wounded personnel in battlefield operations rely on the expertise and effort of the men and women of the 920th MXG. MXG Airmen maintain a humble attitude while they chock up champion results mending aging machines which are put through hulking obstacles.
These things we do that others may live is the attitude that drives their perserverance. For that they deserve a trophy, but instead their glory remains in knowing the weight of their efforts.

For more information about the 920th RQW, log on to the wing's Web site: or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.