71st Rescue Squadron brings home a win

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 41st Rescue Squadron approaches an HC-130J Combat King II from the 71st RQS to conduct aerial refueling during 23d Wing commander Col. Thomas Kunkel’s fini-flight, June 27, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The fini-flight is a long-standing Air Force tradition that occurs when a pilot departs from the base. Upon completion of their final flights, military aviators are hosed down with water or champagne by their family and friends before they depart their unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 41st Rescue Squadron approaches an HC-130J Combat King II from the 71st RQS to conduct aerial refueling during 23d Wing commander Col. Thomas Kunkel’s fini-flight, June 27, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 71st RQS was presented the That Others May Live Foundation’s (TOMLF) 2017 Rescue Squadron of the Year Award, Oct. 21, in Melbourne, Florida for demonstrating rescue excellence from July 2016 to June 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

Staff Sgt. Jaime Richardson-Granger, 71st Rescue Squadron loadmaster, bundles a communications cord during engine start-up, May 31, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Responsibilities will vary depending on the aircraft, but generally, loadmasters are responsible for pre-flight inspections of aircraft, loading and unloading of cargo and conducting in-flight checklists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

Staff Sgt. Jaime Richardson-Granger, 71st Rescue Squadron loadmaster, bundles a communications cord during engine start-up, May 31, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 71st RQS was presented the That Others May Live Foundation’s (TOMLF) 2017 Rescue Squadron of the Year Award, Oct. 21, in Melbourne, Florida for demonstrating rescue excellence from July 2016 to June 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

Aircrew from the 71st Rescue Squadron fly an HC-130J Combat King II, May 31, 2017, in the skies over Tenn. As a rescue crew, aircrew members from the 71st RQS specialize in rescuing isolated personnel from austere or denied locations.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

Aircrew from the 71st Rescue Squadron fly an HC-130J Combat King II, May 31, 2017, in the skies over Tenn. The 71st RQS was presented the That Others May Live Foundation’s (TOMLF) 2017 Rescue Squadron of the Year Award, Oct. 21, in Melbourne, Florida for demonstrating rescue excellence from July 2016 to June 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

(Editor's note: The mention of the nonprofit organization That Others May Live does not constitute endorsement or affiliation by Moody Air Force Base or the U.S. Air Force.)

The 71st Rescue Squadron was presented the That Others May Live Foundation’s 2017 Rescue Squadron of the Year Award, Oct. 21, in Melbourne, Florida.

The annual award is presented to one Air Force rescue unit for outstanding overall squadron success including mission results, combat readiness, unit and individual accomplishments, civilian and military education, and community relations impact.

“Overall, it just makes me proud because we are one of the only fixed wing assets in rescue,” said Tech Sgt. Curtis Copeland, 71st RQS loadmaster. “I haven’t been in rescue long, but I know awards like this don’t typically go to HC-130 squadrons. It’s a huge deal for us because we feel proud of what we’ve done to get there.

Between July 2016 and June 2017, the 71st RQS Airmen proved they were “the best-of-the-best" in combat search and rescue during a variety of contingency operations.

“It’s nice that somebody acknowledges (our work),” said Capt. Marcela Leano, 71st RQS HC-130J Combat King II pilot. “Our hard work is actually affecting people and making a difference even if it’s not right there all the time in the headlines, it’s still pretty critical.”

They had members deployed throughout the entire 12-month award period. During this timeframe, they flew 235 combat missions and provided around-the-clock personnel recovery support for geographic combatant commanders from U.S. Africa and Central Command.

Although members of their squadron were constantly downrange, those at home station continued to embody rescue excellence by providing defense support to civil authorities during natural disasters and integrating in a cross-command exercise as the sole personnel recovery asset.

 “We did a lot of different things that we don’t usually do, which I think is what’s huge for us this time around,” said Copeland. "We did things like counter-drug operations in South America, where we ended up interdicting almost two-and-a-half-tons of cocaine.”

Charged with saving lives as their primary objective, the 71st stepped outside of their normal realm and sought different opportunities to further enhance the full spectrum of their personnel recovery capabilities. They flew the first U.S. Air Force high speed air-to-air refueling alongside a U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II and commanded the first F-22 Raptor forward arming and refueling.

In addition to their many mission successes, the unit also flew three East Coast Airpower Demonstrations showcasing their capabilities to Congress, garnered the 347th Rescue Group Volunteer of the Year Award, and graduated from countless educational programs.

This past year the squadron was on constant rotations and missions. All of these accomplishments seemed like just another day at the time, but they were good enough to win a TOML award and that’s pretty cool, said Copeland.

Copeland plans to celebrate this rescue win by doing what garnered him and his fellow Airman this award: working.

“I think we’re just going to use (this award) as our benchmark and keep grinding,” said Copeland. “I don’t see us slowing down anytime in the future. It gives us something to strive for next year.”