U.S. Air Force Airmen are greeted by members of the 347th Rescue Group at Valdosta Regional Airport, Valdosta, Ga., July 17, 2012. The Airmen returned from a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/Released)
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Wells, 347th Rescue Group superintendent, speaks with Airmen returning from a deployment at the Valdosta Regional Airport, Valdosta, Ga., July 17, 2012. The Airmen were part of a group who returned from a deployment to Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/Released)
U.S. Air Force Col. Steven Gregg, 347th Rescue Group commander, speaks to Staff Sgt. Issaiah McPheron, 38th Rescue Squadron pararescueman, at the Valdosta Regional Airport, Valdosta, Ga., July 17, 2012. McPheron worked alongside other military branches in support of operations in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/Released)
by Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
23d Wing Public Affairs
7/27/2012 - MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- It's the end of a long chapter in Iraq as the final Airmen from 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron began returning home this month. The first 13 Airmen landed in Valdosta, Ga., July 17, and the remaining personnel will be returning home within the next few weeks.
The 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron began operations in Iraq in 2003 and has supported Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. The returning unit supported operations in an alert posture, ready to perform personnel recovery missions.
"We are closing a chapter in that region," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Rudolph Taute, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G instructor pilot. "We have been there since 2003 when Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off.
"It feels great to be back home to reconstitute," he added. "I'm glad to be back, especially with the high operations tempo rescue has kept up."
The 64th ERQS started operations in Ballad, Iraq, until it was recently moved to a location in Southwest Asia.
"It is the end of 64th ERQS deployments to U.S. Air Forces Central," said Col. Steven Gregg, 347th Rescue Group commander. "Since every active-duty HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue squadron has served in the 64th ERQS, I feel that this is significant.
"The 64th ERQS has had many Air Force-level awards, Distinguished Flying Crosses and numerous saved lives," he added.
From May 29, 2012, to July 13, 2012, the 41st RQS flew a total of 145.7 hours with 1,263 total flying training events. They completed joint exercises with the U.S. Army and Navy. The squadron also performed terminal area employment with U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches and shipboard operation with the U.S. Navy.
"Personnel recovery is important because it's in service of others," Taute said. "It is vital in the joint fight.
"It is important that when we send guys out in harm's way, we have the capability to get them out if necessary," he added.
Gregg agrees with Taute about the importance of rescue.
"Coalition forces in harm's way deserve the best medical care they can possibly get," said Gregg. "It's a combination of forces in Air Force rescue that provides that."
The 64th ERQS also provided support for U.S. special operations forces, covering hundreds of missions.
"The Air Force Rescue Family is proud of all the accomplishments achieved during the lifespan of the 64th ERQS," said Gregg. "We look forward to meeting the challenges of the future with the same professionalism as we did in Iraq and Kuwait."
As one chapter closes, another will surely open. These highly skilled Airmen have been called upon since the daring jungle rescues in Vietnam to the relief efforts in Haiti, and they will continue to be called upon to perform the important role of personnel recovery.