Remote rescues in Alaska often are performed by the U.S. Air Force 176th Rescue Wing, part of the Alaska Air National Guard. The wing recently participated in Operation Noble Defender to train for readiness in an arctic environment. The 176th Wing’s rescue triad – known as the Guardian Angels – supports military operations and civilians by providing remote rescue activities on assignment with the Air Force and throughout Alaska.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AKRCC) at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is outfitted with an advanced communications suite, and the search and rescue controllers regularly coordinate with the Alaska State Troopers, Civil Air Patrol, national and state park services, and local-community authorities for civilian assignments.
Combat rescue officers (CROs), pararescue (PJs) Airmen, and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) specialists of 212th Rescue Squadron, HH- 60G Pave Hawk aircrew of 210th Rescue Squadron and HC-130J Combat King II aircrew of 211th Rescue Squadron make up the 176th Wing’s units.
“While rescue can offer challenges far and wide, the ability to operate and succeed given the tyranny of distance and the harsh Arctic operating environment forever complicate any rescue which is why it is so very important to exercise and reinforce rescue skill sets and capability within the Alaska Region in its support to homeland defense,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Alkire III, 611th Air Operations Center deputy commander. “These Air National Guard Units, with concurrent rescue responsibility to the State of Alaska, NORAD-NORTHCOM homeland defense, and to other tasked combatant commands like U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command keep the units on a robust operations tempo not often seen in most units.”
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Daniel Kozak, 211th RQS HC-130 pilot and aircraft commander, summarized the wing’s mission profile during the exercise.
“The point of this flight today is to practice our search-and-rescue capabilities,” he said. “Every time a mission drops from the RCC, we are deployed to search for the survivor. Our triad, the HH60’s, HC130J’s, and 212th Rescue Squadron, work together to locate and extract civilians and military personnel during peace and wartime missions respectively,” he said.
During the exercise, Kozak said the SERE specialist simulating the downed pilot used a satellite beacon to provide the HC-130 with his location, and he communicated with the crew using a UHF/VHF radio.
“To accomplish this mission, we practice scenarios locating simulated survivors using the HC-130’s electro-optical infrared camera and radios,” he said. “Forward-looking infrared and radios are used on the HH-60. A care package is sometimes air dropped via the HC-130 and can include radios so the pilots and survivors can communicate with us.”
Once the crew located the simulated pilot, the Combat King loadmaster air dropped a package tailored for the Arctic with survival gear the isolated person could use to stay safe and healthy until the HH-60 arrived to pick him up.