In Ike’s eye: Search and rescue poised, ready

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | September 09, 2008

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Under the command and control of the First Air Force commander here, joint search and rescue forces are prepositioned and capable of executing response and recovery operations for those who may be affected by Hurricane Ike.

More than 400 joint forces personnel and approximately 20 Air Force and Navy HH-60 helicopters, along with four HC-130s are under the 331st Air Expeditionary Group commanded by Col. Steve Kirkpatrick.

The 331st AEG mission following Hurricane Ike’s landfall is to serve affected states with qualified and immediate medical care, while bringing the ability to conduct air refueling, air lift, air drops of supplies, and the ability to hoist people in need out of flooding water.

During Hurricane Gustav, the 331st AEG stood up under the direction of First Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow, at the Jackson, Miss. Air National Guard base but were not called upon to conduct any rescue operations following Hurricanes Gustav or Hanna. This is a stark contrast to the 4,300 rescues the Air Force made during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We work in conjunction with the civil authorities and they were able to handle the rescue efforts [during Hurricane Gustav] but we were in position and ready if they needed our assistance,” said Colonel Kirkpatrick. “Our SAR crews endure specialized training to conduct humanitarian and combat search and rescues. We hope that there isn’t a need for it but if there is, we will do it and we will do it well.”

A typical combat SAR crew consists of two pilots, a flight engineer, a gunner and two pararescuemen. However, during humanitarian search and rescue missions, the flight engineer and gunner assist the PJs in rescue operations.

Pararescuemen complete a two-year intensive training pipeline that consists of seven specialized schools prior to conducting any rescue missions.

1st Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Northern missions as the air component to U.S. Northern Command, located in Colorado Springs, Colo. 1st Air Force/AFNORTH assist USNORTHCOM in fulfilling its Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities missions. In the DSCA role, 1st Air Force has provided support and coordination of Aeromedical Evacuations, Search and Rescue and damage assessment during Hurricane Gustav and now Hurricane Ike.