By Senior Airman Jessica Green, 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 20, 2013
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- The 129th Rescue Wing has saved its 1,000th life.
The millennial milestone was reached on May 18, 2013 when aircrews and pararescuemen from the 129th Rescue Wing, deployed to Afghanistan, rescued an Afghan national policeman who had suffered a gunshot wound, raising the number of lives saved by the unit to 1,000.
Since its inception nearly four decades ago, the 129th RQW has launched countless missions from its home station of Moffett Federal Airfield and various deployed locations resulting in 1,000 lives saved. The wing is credited with over 400 combat saves and nearly 600 civilian saves. In addition, the wing has assisted in over 600 other saves.
Embracing the motto of the Air Force Rescue community, "That Others May Live," the 129th's federal mission is to "rapidly deploy worldwide to conduct combat search and rescue operations, over land or water, in both hostile and per¬missive environments." In addition to its combat mission, as a California National Guard asset, the wing provides civilian search and rescue support to the Governor during times of State emergencies, including earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and floods.
For members of the wing, saving lives is the most honorable and important mission they will undertake. A "save" is defined as a recovered individual in danger of losing their life, a limb, or eyesight. Save missions are conducted by highly trained personnel. A pararescueman, also known as a "PJ," makes the final determination of patient's status, and documents that status in the final mission report. Patient status is determined independently of the patient category reported in the initial rescue request (e.g., urgent, urgent surgical, priority, routine, and convenience). If a 129th RQW member participated in a recovery mission, whether as pickup aircraft, formation partner, or ground team, then a "save" is credited to the wing.
Operating in California since 1955, the 129th was brought to life at the Hayward Airport as an Air Resupply Group tasked to airlift personnel and material using Curtiss C-46 Commando aircraft. Not long after its launch, the group underwent a variety of name changes, several aircraft conversions and multiple Air Force major command assignments.
The wing's rescue presence dates back to 1975 when it was designated as the 129th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group operating HC-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters.
The 129th ARRG conducted its first rescue mission in 1977 during a Red Flag combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. One of the group's Jolly Green Giant helicopters saved a severely injured pilot that ejected from an A-7 attack aircraft before it crashed into a nearby range.
To provide better rescue capability to the state and the nation, the 129th ARRG moved to Naval Air Station Moffett Field. The move was completed in 1984.
The first long-range, over-water rescue mission was completed Oct. 13, 1986 to rescue a crewman with appendicitis from the ship MS Reunion. The 129th ARRG coordinated with local U.S. Coast Guard assets to successfully rescue the patient and transport him to a hospital in Acapulco, Mexico. The rescue mission, resulting in the group's 145th save, covered a total of 4,200 miles, including 1,200 miles flown over water. To date, it is still the furthest distance the wing has traveled to execute a mission.
The 129th ARRG continued its service to the state throughout the late 1980s. During the 1986 flooding in Sonoma, Sutter and Yuba counties in North¬ern California, 33 lives were saved in five days. In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the 129th established command post opera¬tions and was chosen to coordinate all military aircraft ac¬tivities within the Bay Area. By decade's end, the group had saved 190 people.
The first operational night mission was flown Dec. 27, 1991, to rescue a crewman with major facial and bodily injuries onboard the MV Martha Majesty more than 400 miles southwest of San Francisco, resulting in save 207.
Having successfully transitioned from Jolly Green Giant helicopters to more modern Pave Hawk rescue helicopters in 1991, the group was expanded into the 129th Rescue Wing in 1992 and extended its rescue detachments into squadrons, resulting in the current assignments of the 129th, 130th and 131st Rescue Squadrons at the renamed Moffett Federal Airfield. Today, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, and Guardian Angel pararescuemen and are assigned to these squadrons, respectively.
Through its transformation years the group remained mission ready and established an impressive pattern that would be followed for years to come.
An impromptu rescue, resulting in the wing's 250th save, was conducted on April 4, 1996 when Combat Shadow aircrews diverted from a routine training mission near Moffett to save a Navy pilot had ejected from his F-18 Hornet fighter aircraft 30 miles off the coast of Big Sur, Calif. The Combat Shadow aircrew dropped a survival kit, including a life raft, medical supplies, food, water and a radio, while Pave Hawk aircrews and Pararescuemen dispatched to the scene, hoisted the pilot to safety and transported him to Stanford Hospital.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, citizen-Airmen from the 129th RQW deployed to support rescue missions for Operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, setting an unprecedented standard in combat search and rescue efforts, supporting rescue operations in five countries, all while still supporting their stateside mission.
While deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 129th RQW executed the first combat save for any Air National Guard or Reserve unit on April 15, 2003. Pave Hawk aircrews picked up a severely injured Special Forces soldier from an isolated location and transported him across hostile Iraqi territory to a field hospital during inclement nighttime weather, resulting in the wing's 299th save. During the 2003 deployment to Iraq, the wing sustained zero aircraft or personnel losses, injuries or mishaps and executed 15 saves, bringing the wing's total to 310 lives saved.
In 2005, more than 230 lives were saved in Afghanistan in support of OEF and in the Gulf of Mexico in response to Hurricane Katrina. While deployed to Kandahar in September, 20 lives were saved during multiple high-altitude combat rescue missions, typically in hostile territory under severe darkness. On the home front, Airmen provided lifesaving rescue operations and disaster relief following the hurricane that devastated the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast area. As first responders, PJs saved 212 lives while searching for survivors in rescue boats down flooded suburban streets. Similarly, Airmen from the wing saved 34 lives in the Texas Gulf Coast area in response to Hurricane Ike in 2008, totaling in 598 lives saved for the wing.
During their four-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, 129th RQW aircrews and Pararescuemen saved 307 lives, the largest number of lives saved by the wing during a single deployment. The intense combat deployment saves included rescues of coalition forces, local nationals and sister service members, totaling in 907 lives saved for the wing. The following year, PJs again deployed to Afghanistan, saving an additional 37 lives, increasing the wing's total to 946.
More recently, the 129th RQW has successfully launched an impressive series of complex civilian rescue missions, saving distressed crewmen on international vessels off the golden coast.
129th RQW aircrews and PJs saved the life of an injured crewman onboard a Marshall Islands flagged merchant vessel approximately 300 miles off the coast of Mexico on Nov. 29, 2012. PJs treated the patient during the two-hour flight back to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where the patient was subsequently transported to San Diego for further treatment. This multiday rescue brought the total number of lives saved by the wing to 957.
On May 4, 2013, 129th RQW Airmen, stationed at Moffett and deployed to Afghanistan, collectively saved five lives during two separate missions, despite being more than 7,500 miles apart. While Pave Hawk rescue helicopters here are painted with large hot-pink tails numbers for wildfire season, aircrews were called to rescue a critically ill passenger from a Holland American cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, 300 miles off the coast of Southern California. Meanwhile, deployed helicopter aircrews were called to rescue four distressed individuals in Afghanistan.
Since 1975, the 129th RQW has a long and distinguished record of saving lives for both California and the nation. They continue to dedicate themselves to the personnel recovery mission at home and abroad, resulting in more than 400 combat and nearly 600 civilian rescues, bringing the total number of lives saved to 1,000 and counting.