State Senate honors Air National Guardsmen for international maritime rescue
By Senior Airman Jessica Green, 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 07, 2012
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD -- Seven California Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing were honored during the California Senate floor session on April 12 for their efforts in the successful rescue of two injured fishermen from a fishing vessel in international waters 500 miles off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico.
"Thank you, good folks, for the rescue at sea. [This rescue] demonstrates the importance of our people in uniform and the National Guard," said Sen. Lou Correa, chairman of the California Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "I would like to recognize our California National Guard and specifically some of their heroic deeds."
The mission launched on the evening of March 9 when the 129th received a call from the U.S. Coast Guard concerning two injured fishermen aboard a fishing vessel more than 800 miles west of Mexico. The fishermen were badly burned in a diesel fire and required medical treatment beyond the capabilities of the ship's medical staff. Due to the vessel's remote location in the Pacific Ocean and the immediate need for medical care, the 129th accepted the mission.
"The U.S. Coast Guard does not have the capability to conduct rescue operations so far out at sea," Correa said. "They called the only organization in the world that could perform such a mission ... the California National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing."
Two MC-130P Combat Shadow cargo refueling planes, two HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, flight crews, aircraft maintainers and a team of pararescuemen set off for Mexico to complete the mission. After flying more than 1,750 miles, the pararescue team parachuted into the open ocean with supplies necessary to stabilize the patients. The team spent about 24 hours on the vessel with the fishermen before being hoisted onto a Pave Hawk and flown nearly two hours to Acapulco, while providing continuous medical care to the injured.
Once transitioned onto a Combat Shadow aircraft, the team flew another six hours with the patients to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The pararescuemen then transferred the patients into a civilian ambulance and traveled to the University of California, San Diego Medical Center for further treatment.
"Thank you for taking time to recognize this remarkable unit and these remarkable Airmen," said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard. He then introduced each of the pararescuemen involved in the long-range, multi-day rescue -- Capt. Kyle Wells, Senior Master Sgt. Eric Burke, Master Sgt. Seth Zweben, Tech. Sgt. Mark Finney and Senior Airman Jeremiah Loser -- and described their personal involvement in the operation.
Baldwin then introduced two unusual assets for this mission: Staff Sgt. Hong Zhou, a resource adviser for the 129th Logistics Squadron, and Senior Airman Yoahui Chen, a military pay technician from the 129 Rescue Wing Finance Office. These two Airmen drew from their cultural heritage to provide interpreter assistance to the air crew during the initial contact with the fishing vessel and throughout the rescue mission.
"Over the course of this Wing's history, they've rescued nearly 1,000 people," the general said. "The 129th Rescue Wing is one of the most highly decorated units in the U.S. Air Force."
More than 600 combat medals have been awarded to 129th Rescue Wing Airmen for their efforts in the recent conflicts overseas, including 50 Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor Devices, among the highest awards for heroism in the U.S. military.
"While at home, here in California, the 129th performs a variety of civilian search-and-rescue missions ... in support of law enforcement or fire departments every three days," the general said. "You don't hear about that a lot ... and these are the people that made one of them happen."