SecAF flies with 129 RQS Pave Hawk Crew

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley flew with members of the 129th Rescue Squadron during a visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to tour the base and observe the intercontinental ballistic missile, Minuteman III, test launch, June 15, 2010.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dan Kacir/RELEASED)

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley flew with members of the 129th Rescue Squadron during a visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to tour the base and observe the intercontinental ballistic missile, Minuteman III, test launch, June 15, 2010. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dan Kacir/RELEASED)

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley flew with members of the 129th Rescue Squadron during a visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base June 15 to tour the base and observe the intercontinental ballistic missile, Minuteman III, test launch.

Vandenberg AFB representatives requested the 129th RQS to provide air support for Secretary Donley.

After visiting the 14th Air Force Joint Space Operations Center and being briefed by Lt. Gen. Larry James, the 14th Air Force commander, on current and upcoming missions, Secretary Donley got a lift from a 129th RQS HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter for an aerial base tour.

"We got notice of the request within a few days," said Lt. Col. Rhys Hunt, a Pave Hawk pilot with the 129th RQS. "Everyone came together to get the aircraft ready and available to fly the distinguished visitor."

The 76th Helicopter Squadron at Vandenberg was disbanded in 2007; the mission of space launch security is now maintained by unmanned aerial vehicles. The 129th RQS is grateful to have the opportunity to support active duty units when in need, said Maj. Mathew Wenthe, a Pave Hawk pilot with the 129th RQS.

"The base is huge, about 26,000 acres of launch sites, installations and space missile facilities," said Lt. Col Hunt. "The best way to give the tour was by helicopter."

While flying over the Santa Barbara County base, Secretary Donley also had the opportunity to view Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex-6, nicknamed "Slick Six," a 132-acre complex modified to handle launching the expendable launch vehicle, Delta IV.

"After we flew down to Slick Six, I had the opportunity to give the Secretary our squadron coin and a PEDRO patch to commemorate the five Airmen recently killed in Helmand," Lt. Col. Hunt said. "We had flown the same area last summer."

In May 2009 approximately 100 guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing deployed to southern Afghanistan. The 129th RQW servicemembers stood rescue alert at Kandahar Airfield, Tarin Kowt, and Camp Bastion in the Helmand province.

Flying under the call sign PEDRO, 129th aircrew, pararescuemen, and support personnel provided around-the-clock personnel recovery, and combat casualty evacuation support to all coalition forces within their area of responsibility.

"Those PEDROS were our buddies," said the colonel. "We only lost a helicopter over there, they lost their lives."

Secretary Donley thanked us for our service after he acknowledged the loss of the fallen PEDRO Airmen, said Maj. Thomas Roberts, a Pave Hawk pilot with the 129th RQS.

"I think his visit proved that what Vandenberg does is a big deal for our country, and they need support" Maj. Roberts said. "It also gave the 129th a chance to connect with active duty counterparts for a better future working relationship."