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Inside the Gates: Alaska Air National Guard trains to help rescue American astronauts

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 7:17 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Members of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s 212th Rescue Squadron took the plunge over Hawaii earlier this month, as part of the training for the pararescue members.

“You’re not so worried about getting out the water,” said Lt. Col. John Romspert, the unit’s commanding officer. “You have time to work with the equipment, take your time, train new guys without worrying about hypothermia.”

The 212th and the 144th Rescue Squadron took part in Exercise H2O, pararescue personnel jumped from one of their C-17s. The mission is to train to rescue American astronauts.

“Our astronauts are our national treasure,” Romspert said. “Having the ability to have our C-17s be on the standby, is a pretty amazing thing. It’s an awesome accomplishment.”

The pararescue personnel have used the C-17s as part of their tools since 2011.

The training caught the eyes of NASA. The nation’s space agency looked for help if its astronauts found themselves in a water rescue. The Air National Guard could drop multiple watercraft and pararescuers. They would care for the astronauts for up to 72 hours.

The Space X Crew Dragon spacecraft safely splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in August 2020. It came after it launched in the first manned commercial space flight. The 212th and 144th squadrons remained on standby in South Carolina.

“It was a lot of pride that came to fruition for us,” said Master Sgt. Lloyd Llaneza of the 144th Airlift Squadron, who served on both those crews. “Being down there, it was just a great experience.”

“Just to kind of see the excitement from the nation in our country getting back to doing that, and knowing we played an important role in the plan of getting those guys home safely, it’s a really rewarding mission,” said Capt. Chris Burgess, a C-17 pilot for the squadron.

Fortunately, the National Guard units did not have to deploy.

“We talk a lot about no-fail missions, this was one of those missions you knew was absolutely 100% no-fail,” said Master Sgt. Colton Nelson with the 176th Operation Support Squadron. “The only we’re down there is if those astronauts are having the worst day of their life.”

The Hawaii Air National Guard took part in the training for the first time since it also has C-17s.

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