Unusual day for 129th heroes

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Almost an hour passed before U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk flight team pilots, gunners and pararescuemen taxied back to the landing pad here after a rescue mission.  

As they peeled back their heavy body armor and dismounted their war birds reveling and exhaling with relief, their uniform t-shirts were soaked in perspiration from another hearty, brutal rescue mission that saved four Afghan lives today.

"Dude! Did you see that?!" one gunner said. "He was firing right at us!" he said, full of energy and exhilaration from their successful undertaking.

"I was right there; I don't know how (enemy fire) missed us," another pilot said, still a bit shaky from the adrenaline rush of the mission.

The 129th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing here received a call Aug. 9 and responded in a matter of minutes to rescue four "category A's," which is the most severe physical condition that demands immediate medical attention within one hour.

"Today was a little more intense," said Staff Sgt. Andy Hedin, a flight engineer with the 129th ERQS.  "I've never heard an RPG detonated (and fired at us) before.  Even though we risked our lives today, we saved people--and that's the important thing."

Several pieces of airpower assisted their victory; close air support by A-10s, eyes in the sky from Unmanned Aerial Systems surveying overhead and a few lethal helicopter platforms ready to save four Afghans who were severely wounded.

"You're constantly evaluating the situation," said Maj. Tom Keegan, director of operations for the 129th ERQS.  "You have to consider how dangerous the situation is and balance it with how much fuel you have left, what tactics you're going to use, and what your wingman is going to do," he said.

The 129th ERQS is a rescue helicopter squadron that provides support not only to downed (Air Force) pilots, but personnel recovery including coalition forces, local nationals and sister service members.  They are comprised of active duty, reserve and guard units from different rescue squadrons around the world, including squadrons from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nellis AFB, Nev. and from Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif.

"We have highly trained people, which allow us flexibility to do a lot of missions," Major Keegan said.

But the squadron isn't just called to rescue patients without a deadline; their goal, directed by the Secretary of the Air Force, must be to rescue patients with one hour; also known as "the golden hour."

"To help increase our response time, we monitor the battle space," Lt. Col. Rhys Hunt, 129th ERQS commander said.  "That's what makes us so efficient because we're leaning forward to scout out possible threats," he said.

"If we miss the 'golden hour' mark, there's a pretty good reason for it," Colonel Hunt said.  "Sometimes Regional Command (South) will take up to 15 minutes to make a decision on the medical condition of a patient."

"You go through every single emotion every day," Sergeant Hedin said. "But it's the best gratification ever."

"The stuff they do is just incredible," Major Keegan added.