Rescue squadrons' farewell to Lakenheath
The USAF's two rescue squadrons based at RAF Lakenheath held a farewell event today as they complete their move to Aviano in Italy.
The move of the the 56th and 57th RQS was announced in November 2015 to better locate them to provide strategic combat search and rescue to the European and African theatres of operations and provide training opportunities with partners and Allies in the region.
Col Evan Pettus, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said: “I am extraordinarily proud to have served with the men and women of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons.
“Our rescue Airmen personify values our nation holds dear and all service members strive to emulate. During their time here, they have been directly responsible for saving countless lives as well as drawing us closer to our allies through cooperation, training and shared ideals.”
The 56th RQSis the helicopter squadron, flying HH-60G Pave Hawks. The 57th RQS is composed of pararescue airmen and combat rescue officers who jump from helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft to provide life saving care and perform on-the-ground personnel recovery. The two squadrons often work together, but they provide two different parts of the combat rescue mission.
The two squadrons have gradually moved nearly 350 personnel and five Pave Hawks to their new base over several months.
Lt Col Leslie Semrau, 56th Rescue Squadron commander, said: “This marks the end of an era for the 56th and 57th rescue squadrons, but no matter where we’re located, we remain ready to deliver combat search and rescue capabilities wherever and whenever they’re needed.”
The 56th RQS, whose heritage dates back to the early years of the Vietnam War, came to RAF Lakenheath in June 2006 from Keflavik, Iceland.
Since then, the squadron has been responsible for approximately 600 rescues and assists in support of operations during their 12 year stay in the UK.
Tragedy struck in January 2014 when a Pave Hawk from 56th RQS, call sign Jolly 22, struck geese and crashed during low-level training exercise at Cley-Next-the-Sea, claiming the lives of two pilots, Capt Sean Ruane and Capt Christopher Stover, and two special missions aviators, Tech Sgt Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt Afton Ponce.
The 57th RQS, originally set up in the Azores in 1952, was established at RAF Lakenheath in March 2015, and in October 2016 was named the ‘2015-2016 Rescue Squadron of the Year’ by the That Others May Live Foundation.
Its commander Major Seth Davis said: “We’re sad to be leaving but are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done while located at RAF Lakenheath and are excited about the squadrons’ new home in Italy."
The relocation is scheduled to be finished by the end of June.