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Inside the Gates: Alaska Air National Guard gives public chance to learn how it helps save lives

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 7:45 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s not the finish Aliy Zirkle wanted to her final Iditarod. A concussion and upper body injuries forced her to withdraw when he arrived at the Rohn checkpoint March 8. The 210th Rescue Squadron flew Zirkle to Anchorage’s Providence Medical Center to be treated.

The unit from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing often responds up to 18 calls for help a month, said Wing Spokesperson Maj. Chelsea Aspelund.

The 210th found itself at last weekend’s Great Alaska Aviation Gathering at the Palmer Municipal Airport. It gave the community a chance to learn more about the unit and the National Guard. The crew brought along one of their UH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

Part of the the National Guard’s mission is to provide search and rescue operations, not just for the military, but civilian emergencies as well.

“Rescuing lost hunters, or downed civilian pilots, or someone whose had a boating accident out on the Kenai (Peninsula), or in the (Cook) Inlet,” said Tech. Sgt. Duncan Harris of Kenai, one of the crew members. ”We can go and pick them up, and rescue them.”

But, that can often be a challenge.

“Getting called in the middle of the night, sometimes not even knowing where you’re going,” said Capt. Landon Bryan, one of the pilots. “Trying to figure out weather patterns and long distances through mountain passes.”

The unit has help when the mission takes longer than planned.

The 212th Rescue Squadron provides assistance with pararescue personnel and its HC-130 aircraft.

“We’re outfitted to take care of inflight refueling,” said Staff Sgt. Cody Boyles of Chugiak, one of the crewmembers. “We have two chutes that will come out and we’re able to refuel the H-60. We’ll also be able to take on fuel.”

It’s not an easy job for any member of National Guard’s Search and Rescue Team. It often involves long hours, and tough conditions. But crewmembers say it’s worth it.

“If I’ve got a family member, one of my neighbors is out hiking and he gets in a bad spot, I’m going to be there to pick him up and get him home,” Harris said.

The 210th and 212th Rescue Squadrons have also been deployed overseas to recover American pilots shot down during combat. The Alaska Army National Guard also has its own search and rescue team.

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