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NEWS | March 3, 2014

Alaska Air National Guard units complete massive 'Lava Rescue' training exercise

By Maj. Candis Olmstead Alaska National Guard

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - Airmen from the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing completed an 11-day flying training exercise, "Lava Rescue 2014," on Friday. Seventy-seven members of the 210th and 212th Rescue Squadrons, the 144th and 249th Airlift Squadrons, and the 176th Maintenance Group participated in a first-ever opportunity of its kind in the Alaska Air Guard.

"What makes this unique is having the largest operations group in the Air National Guard train together for a mass casualty water search and rescue response, and conduct air refueling and air drops with other service components in the Pacific Command area of operations," said 210th Rescue Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Steve Latham. "Few folks in our ops group have had much opportunity to perform our mission and get this type of training in our tasked AOR," he said.

Training exercises included search and rescue operations performed at sea during the day,and additional SAR training after dark with night-vision equipment. For one of the scenarios, simulated survivors were placed about five miles off of the coast of Oahu, with 212th RQS Guardian Angel pararescuemen in place on a water craft,and additional PJs in the 210th RQS HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to practice exiting the helo, rescuing survivors, and being hoisted back onto the aircraft.

In another search and rescue exercise-a mission that only the Alaska Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III aircraft has performed-PJs and two SAR watercraft were dropped from the aircraft over water, simulating a long-range SAR mission.

This was the first time that a Guardian Angel rescue craft has ever dropped from a C-17 over water.

"We are the only C-17 unit in the Air Force and ANG who currently executes the C-17rescue airdrop," said Maj. Scott Altenburg, a C-17 pilot and mission commander for the C-17 portion of Lava Rescue 2014.

"We wrote the book on it. It's now published in our tactics and procedures and will be released this year for other C-17 units to reference," Altenburg said.

The C-17 also practiced air refueling this week with the Hawaii Air National Guard's KC-135 Stratotanker, and conducted formation flying with the Air Force's 535th Airlift Squadron.

A C-130 from the 144th Airlift Squadron flew a mission in support of 35 Marines and Navy personnel that included static line drops with special operations Marines, and high altitude low opening personnel drops with Navy SEALS.

The144th also transported personnel and cargo from Alaska for the exercise and all will return home this weekend, along with the C-17 that will be loaded with two folded HH-60s.

The first-ever Lava Rescue 2014 exercise would not have been possible without the support and hard work of maintenance crews, logistics and support personnel.

"Maintenance and logistics personnel have performed flawlessly to support generation of aircraft, equipment and cargo, which was essential for the success of Lava Rescue 2014," said Lt. Col. Karl Westerlund, the mission commander.

Lava Rescue 2014 included many high-value mission opportunities for aircrew, pararescuemen, maintenance and support personnel from the Alaska Air Guard to train together, and in joint training events with other military services. They flew more than 25 sorties.

"The combination of training opportunities really couldn't have been any better," Westerlund said.