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Rescue force successfully saves two in first HH-60W combat CASEVAC in Africa AOR

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jayson Burns
  • 435th Air Expeditionary Wing

In an ideal world, the deployed men and women serving in personnel recovery would never have to put their training to real world use. Sometimes that call is made, however, and it’s due to that state of readiness that lives are saved.

A combined force of deployed U.S. assets coordinated to save two lives outside the wire in the Horn of Africa late this last December. The force consisted of HC-130J recovery aircraft and Guardian Angels from the 347th Rescue Group, as well as HH-60W combat rescue helicopters in their first real-world casualty evacuation operation in the African area of responsibility (AOR).

The HH-60W and its sister squadrons are assigned to the Personnel Recovery Task Force (PRTF) under the direction of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group and the Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC). The special capabilities and training of the HH-60W and its crews make it a unique capability with the AOR that enables commanders to reduce the overall risk to mission and risk to force.

“The PRTF is specifically manned, trained, and equipped to rapidly respond to emergency battlefield situations to return American, allied and partner forces to friendly control,” said Lt. Col. Thaddeus Ronnau, commander of the PRTF and regional director of the JPRC at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. “While personnel may be behind enemy lines, or far from needed support, this team is equipped to travel great distances and fight their way in and out if necessary to make the mission happen.”

Alert crews were activated during the pre-dawn hours and responded quicker than the required theater response times. The initial pick up of the injured was quick, and the team was in and out of the area without incident. They then immediately made for the nearest medical facility for trauma surgery while the Pararescuemen performed their own stabilizing emergency medical care in the aircraft’s cabin. The HC-130Js were then called to swiftly move the most seriously wounded member to another location for further treatment. Both lives were saved.

“I cannot overstate how proud I am of our team,” said Capt. Abby Norwood of the 303rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. “Everyone responded with complete professionalism, doing exactly what we train to do. We couldn’t have done it without the whole team.”

The successful recovery of isolated and/or injured persons is a force multiplier that transcends the tactical to the operational and strategic levels. It preserves critical resources and is a key element in sustaining the morale, cohesion, and fighting capability of joint and friendly forces. In particular, by bringing the team directly to the location, the HH-60W can shorten the time required to rescue an isolated and/or wounded individual.

“Even in the vast expanses of Africa, this combined team was able to pull a critical patient from the battlefield with the Air Force’s newest Rescue vehicle and place them in the hands of skilled trauma surgeons, ultimately saving two lives,” Ronnau said. “By continuously working to ensure that ‘Jack’s worst day won’t be his last,’ these members of the Rescue family upheld the highest virtues of the Code of the Air Rescueman and demonstrated ‘these things we do that others may live.’”