Alaska Air National Guard: The village behind the rescues

In rural Alaska, oftentimes hundreds of personnel play a hand in a single mission
Alaska Air National Guard: The village behind the rescues
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2023 at 1:59 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Over the last decade, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson averaged 130 missions each year.

Last year, the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing supported 55 of those — and just last week, they successfully completed their 16th in 2023 to date.

Guardsmen from the 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons launched a HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter with aerial support from a HC-130J Combat King II to the island of Little Diomede in the Bering Strait.

Maj. Sara Warren, a search and rescue duty officer with the 176th Wing, coordinated the effort to medevac a woman facing a serious complication with her pregnancy.

“We don’t just launch for anything, it has to be a critical patient who could go bad pretty quickly and in this case, the issue was that of the unknown,” Warren said. “In those cases, we don’t gamble with people’s lives.”

The call to the AKRCC came in after civilian aircraft in closer proximity to the island were unable to land due to bad weather. The C-130 was used to fly ahead of the Pave Hawk for weather reconnaissance as well as aerial refueling along the approximately 600-mile journey.

Both aircraft carried pararescuemen and combat rescue officers with the 211th Rescue Squadron, otherwise known as Guardian Angel teams.

The patient was successfully medevaced off the island by the Pave Hawk helicopter and taken to Nome for medical treatment.

Beyond the handful of personnel on board the aircraft, a total of 41 guardsmen played a role in the rescue, everything from operational support staff to maintenance. Everyone from the ground to the sky plays a key role in the success of rescuing Alaskans in need.

“When you sum up all the functions of just this Wing, and you put them together, it is a highly effective and awesome power for good,” Warren said.

According to the director of communications and public affairs for the Alaska National Guard and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Alan Brown, each mission serves as a training opportunity for guardsmen.

“These missions provide exceptional real-world training opportunities not otherwise available,” Brown wrote in a written statement. “Standing up and planning for these types of missions, flying through challenging conditions over varied terrain and saving lives keeps our skills sharp and perfectly translates into mission capability for our national defense.”