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Wing reaches milestone, 600 lives saved

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing based here rescued two Afghan National Army soldiers in the Oruzgan Province of Afghanistan May 15, raising the number of lives saved by the unit from 599 to 601.

Two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters were scrambled without delay to recover the Afghan soldiers who were critically injured with gunshot wounds during battle with Taliban forces. Suppression from U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft was required to permit the HH-60Gs, with pararescue forces onboard, to successfully perform the combat recovery.

While en route to the nearest medical facility, pararescuemen (better known as PJs) performed life saving trauma care to stabilize the two Afghan nationals. The patients were successfully transferred to a field surgical team where they received advanced care for their injuries.

"It was a very challenging mission recovering two critically wounded soldiers from a highly contested area utilizing various tactical close air support assets," said Lt. Col. Daniel Lapostole, 129th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander. It was "a very difficult life-saving mission."

Colonel Lapostole, also the 129th Rescue Squadron commander with the 129th Rescue Wing, assumed command of the 129th ERQS on May 5. The 129th ERQS has the primary mission of performing combat search and rescue tasks, including personnel recovery and medical evacuation. The 129th is the lead unit for Combat Search and Rescue in Afghanistan.

As an Air National Guard unit, many of the 129th's 600 rescues involved supporting the Governor's office during state emergencies, which included earthquakes, fires and floods. Last year the unit saved over 35 people while performing search and rescue operations during the Northern California wildfires and the Gulf Coast's Hurricane Ike. The unit also performed two over-water rescues in 2008, both more than 500 miles off the coast of California.

"On behalf of the citizens of California, I commend the men and women of the 129th Rescue Wing on their 600th and 601st saves, which demonstrates their continued dedication to saving lives," said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "From fires and hurricanes to combat operations, no challenge is too great for these Guardsmen."

More than 65 citizen-Airmen from all over the Bay Area deployed to Afghanistan in early May for two to four months to provide combat search and rescue support for Operation Enduring Freedom. All told, approximately 100 Guardsmen and three of the unit's Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, will deploy to Afghanistan over the course of their four-month tour.

"Our professional live-saving Airmen never cease to risk their lives for others, whether it is a fellow citizen here in California or a foreign national in Afghanistan," said Col. Amos Bagdasarian, commander of the 129th Rescue Wing. "Their brave combat actions typify our motto, 'These things we do, that others may live.'"