Air Guard prepares for deployment

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The deployment location and departure date for Alaska Air National Guard personnel called to active duty this week remains a secret, Guard personnel said Thursday.

The Pentagon on Monday night called up more than 150 members of the 176th Wing at Kulis Air National Guard Base. They reported for duty Tuesday.

The personnel include members of the elite 210th Rescue Squadron, a significant share of Southcentral Alaska's top rescue crews.

The mission is part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. effort against terrorism that has placed soldiers in Afghanistan and other countries.

The call-up includes some HC-130 planes, along with support crews such as aircraft mechanics. The squadron's fleet of HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters will stay here.

Among the Alaskans called up is the superintendent of Anchorage Christian Schools, Thomas Cobaugh. The Air Guard major said the call up was not unexpected.

''As world events escalated over the last couple of months, it was less and less surprising,'' he said.

Cobaugh has been in the Air Guard for 13 years and will leave behind a wife and sons, ages 14 and 12, for up to a year. This will be his first deployment.

''My wife was real supportive. I have two sons. They're real proud of their dad going to help people in another part of the world, but it's hard to say goodbye.''

The wing will serve in a search-and-rescue capacity, a mission that could involve rescuing downed pilots, a sick soldier, a sailor injured at sea or even civilians hurt in an earthquake.

Cobaugh oversees aircraft maintenance and takes pride in the job the airmen do.

''These maintainers, they're the real heroes,'' he said, noting the hours and hours they spend making aircraft ready, often overnight.

The 150-member group called up has handled hundreds of lifesaving civilian missions ranging from cliff-side rescues on Mount McKinley to airlifting injured hikers in the Chugach Mountains.

The state's Rescue Coordination Center, in an effort to fill the void, will have to rely more heavily on the Army Guard, Alaska State Troopers, National Park Service, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group or Civil Air Patrol.

The center also will rely on local fire departments, emergency services and communities across the state, said Maj. Mike Haller, spokesman for the Alaska National Guard.

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