Insides the Gates: Alaska Army National Guard earns rescue of the year honor

The Alaska National Guard is routinely called upon to rescue people around the state, and it’s received national recognition for its efforts.
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 4:16 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska National Guard is routinely called upon to rescue people around the state, and it’s received national recognition for its efforts.

The 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion with the Alaska Army National Guard has been awarded with the 2021 Rescue of the Year from the DUSTOFF Association, according to a press release from Alaska’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The national organization recognizes Army medical evacuations.

“I think that has a lot to do with the training that we put in, and this crew as a whole has done,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Jorgensen, who served as the co-pilot during the Sept. 15, 2021 flight that earned the guard this recognition. “We’ve worked together a lot and so it’s second nature.”

The crew got called upon to respond by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center to rescue a sheep hunter in the Knik River Valley.

“There was a stranded sheep hunter that was up at about 5,800 feet,” said Capt. Cody McKinney, the medevac commander for the 2-211th. “He has been up there I think for two or three days.”

McKinney also serves as the deputy state Army aviation officer and commander of the 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion. He and his crew responded to the rescue at the mountain near Cottonwood Creek, 40 miles northeast of Anchorage.

The team, according to McKinney, faced several challenges, including a winter storm that approached the area. Plus, the hunter found himself trapped on a slope at at 50-60 degree angle.

“It was a two-by-three rock on the side of a cliff,” said Staff Sgt. Sonny Cooper, the helicopter crew chief. “So I’m managing the pilot’s altitude and their approach, while cabling out our medic, and having to set him down essentially on top of the guy.”

Sgt. 1st Class Damion Minchaca is the medic who was lowered to the hunter.

“I pushed him against the wall,” Minchaca said. “I used the ARV, which is the air rescue vest that we used here. And we wrapped (it around him) real fast, being pinned against the wall, and then hooked him up.”

The crew said it took less than two minutes to complete the rescue once they arrived on the scene.

Crew members said the rescue was initiated when the hunter activated his satellite communication device, which alerted Alaska State Troopers, who then contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

They said the rescue could have been delayed by three days because of the approaching storm, if the hunter had not had the device.

The Alaska National Guard also received the annual Jolly Green Rescue Mission of the Year award from the Air Rescue Association and the That Others May Live Foundation last Nov. 5.

Nine units took part in two rescues in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in early June 2021.

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