RAF MILDENHALL, United Kingdom --
U.S. Airmen from the 67th Special Operations Squadron, assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing, stationed at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, took on unique challenges as they conducted a deliberate, personnel recovery exercise alongside the 56th and 57th Air Rescue Squadron, based out of Aviano Air Base, Feb. 6, 2019, near Zadar, Croatia. As United States Special Operations Command Europe’s only Air Force Special Operations unit, the Air Commandos of 352nd SOW are postured to deliver specialized air power and air land integration in support of special operations worldwide.
This responsibility brings a unique set of mission capabilities for the 67th SOS, as owners of the MC-130J Commando II, which provides infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile or denied territory.
The 56th RQS is a combat-ready search and rescue squadron of HH-60G Pave Hawks, capable of executing all-weather search and rescue mission's day or night in hostile environments. The 57th RQS is known as “Guardian Angel” due to their unique mission set to retrieve downed pilots or other isolated personnel, often in the middle of battle.
“Personnel recovery is not one of our core missions or mission essential tasks, however, being forward staged makes us able to assist in a personnel recovery missions in the European Theatre,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Marty Weeks, Commander of the 67th SOS. "Especially since the 56th [and 57th] RQS relocated from RAF Lakenheath to Aviano Air Base, our opportunities to work with them have become more infrequent."
The scenario simulated a downed aircraft which experienced an engine malfunction, resulting in the pilot ejecting out of the aircraft into unknown territory. Through air and ground integration, units were able to effectively communicate and recover the notional survivor.
“Today’s goal was to test the ability of aircraft communicating safely and effectively with each other in order to pick someone up, that might find themselves on the other side of the fence or behind enemy lines, in order to get them back safely and sound,” said a U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt., SERE specialist, assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing, in Support of the 56th and 57th RQS.
Personnel recovery is something the 56th and 57th RQS do routinely. The 67th SOS brings unique capabilities to this exercise.
“What we provide to this exercise, and in a real-world situation, are the capabilities of air dropping the Guardian Angel team from a high-altitude, stand-off position, provide over-watch with our on-board equipment, as well as provide an airborne, mission-commander role with the robust communication suite that we have,” said Weeks.
An airborne mission commander serves as an airborne extension of the executing component’s rescue coordination center and coordinates combat search and rescue efforts with ground parties, as well as other airborne assets.
Units across the European Command remain proficient in their abilities to deliver combat search and rescue capabilities wherever and whenever they’re needed.
“In future conflicts we may be called upon, it’s important that other units, that may not own personnel recovery tasks, understand that they are still capable assets that can get overhead and support personnel recovery effectively,” said the SERE specialist.
This enhanced capability allows the 67th SOS to hone in on their additional skill sets as they provide SOF integration to the Combat Air Force’s worldwide.
“I say, do it more, do it often. If we train to potential scenarios, there are reduced risk and mistakes if we are called upon to support in the future. Integrating other units makes not just the specific training, but the mission set, more successful,” added the SERE specialist.
The 67th SOS was able to utilize the significant terrain in our NATO allies’ territories to successfully accomplish their objectives.
“We are very appreciative of our ability to train at our Croatian partners’ facilities, which ultimately increases our overall readiness, demonstrates our alliance and helps combat a variety of regional and global threats,” said Weeks.