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Inside the Gates: Alaska Air National Guard recalls 2020 Iranian missile attacks

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 9:10 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - What could have been still plays on the minds of members of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron, as they recount the events of an evacuation mission last year ahead of an Iranian missile strike.

In January 2020, airmen in the 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron were responsible for standing alert and providing combat search and rescue or personnel recovery in the Iraq area of operations, according to a press release from the Alaska Air National Guard. Most of the airmen in that squadron were from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and were part of the 211th Rescue Squadron.

The 211th served at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq. The unit got called upon to evacuate the base on Jan. 8, 2020 after military leaders received word of an impending Iranian attack.

“Every time I step on an aircraft I think, you know, it could be the last time I step on an aircraft,” said Tech Sgt. Dustin Brown, a loadmaster with the squadron, as he recalled one of the unit’s most dangerous missions.

A display case in the unit’s headquarters reminds the airmen of how close they came to death. It contains debris from an Iranian missile attack.

“We filled the plane two times, my plane in particular filled it two times,” Brown said. “And then we had another plane do it as well.”

“This is real, it’s not just a game, or a drill,” said Lt. Col. Jeremiah Brewer, a pilot with the 211th. “There was a deep feeling for myself that something real was going to happen.”

Eleven missiles ended up striking the base, but no one was killed. Iran launched them in retaliation for the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani five days earlier in Iraq. The U.S. claimed Soleimani had planned an attack against U.S. forces in the region, and then-President Donald Trump had ordered an airstrike that killed him.

Members of the 211th would see the damage first hand when they returned after the attack.

“I mean my clinic was gone, a lot of our buildings were gone,” said Col. John Boston, the state air surgeon for the Alaska Air National Guard. “I remember very distinctly the smell, very strong smells of just burning and charred and smoke.”

The missile attack did not kill any U.S. personnel.

“I’m thankful to be alive,” Brewer said. “I’m thankful to have the people that were there with us that we were able to get out together as a team.”

The 211th said in the release it evacuated more than 250 airmen during the 30-hour operation.

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