The military rescue helicopters will be moving from RAF Lakenheath to Italy, the USAF has announced today.
The 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons, currently assigned to Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing, will relocate with their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters to Aviano Air Base, Italy.
The USAF says the move ‘will improve training opportunities and bring the squadrons closer to regional hot spots’.
Lt Col Bernard Smith, 56th Rescue Squadron commander, said: “It has been a truly rewarding experience living and training in the UK. The support and fellowship we have been shown during our time here will always be a special memory.
“From a geographic standpoint, this movement will enable us to be more agile in our support to personnel recovery requirements across Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.”
Lt Col Jose Cabrera, 57th Rescue Squadron commander, added: “Saving lives is at the heart of our mission, so moving to Italy, where we’re better postured to provide rescue capabilities quickly and effectively, just makes sense.
“While we’ll miss the great support and hospitality we’ve experienced in England, we certainly look forward to forging new relationships and conducting training operations in Italy.”
Members of the squadrons were touched by the public support they received in January 2014 when four members of the 56th were killed after their Pave Hawk hit geese and crashed on Cley Marshes in North Norfolk.
The squadrons are expected to begin relocating in the 2017 fiscal year. They include five helicopters and about 350 airmen.
Leader of Forest Heath District Council, Cllr James Waters said: “The bigger picture to all of this is that the USAF is still committed to expanding its presence at RAF Lakenheath and we were expecting a shuffling of its pack ahead of the arrival of the F-35s and 1,200 additional personnel.
“We continue to be in regular liaison with both the USAFE and the MOD over the changes at both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, and we will have further talks to understand and minimise the impact of these changes to our local communities.”