Alaska troops deploy for secret destinations

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Crews from the 210th Rescue Squadron and support teams from the Air National Guard's 176th Wing are leaving Alaska to serve in the war against terrorism.

About 100 members of the wing specializing in combat search-and-rescue missions to recover downed pilots started deploying Sunday to an undisclosed location. The deployment will occur in waves, culminating Tuesday.

Guard members were told Friday they were leaving the state.

Military officials said two units are headed for two separate destinations within the U.S. Central Command Area of Operations, a 24-country area extending from Kazakhstan to Kenya that includes hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense mobilized about 175 members of the wing based at Kulis Air National Guard Base in February. Rescuers and other crew members readied to leave within days, but days stretched into months.

The initial activation in February came as the United States geared up to invade Iraq. Though the Iraq war has been declared over, the fight against terrorism continues, said Capt. Candis Olmstead, spokeswoman for the 176th.

The deployment is part of a larger military strategy to reposition forces to better support President Bush's anti-terrorism campaign, she said.

Pilots and pararescuers assigned to HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters will go to one location, Olmstead said. No helicopters from Kulis are deploying; helicopter crews will use Pavehawks already in place.

Crew members associated with the HC-130s combat rescue versions of C-130 transport planes will go to another location, but the two units will continue to work together, she said.

The helicopters ferry pararescuers whose mission is to recover downed pilots. The planes provide refueling, but rescue teams often parachute from them as well.

At this point, plans call for a 180-day deployment split into two 90-day assignments.

During peacetime, members of the 210th accomplish more saves each year than any other military rescue unit worldwide, according to a statement from the 176th.

The squadron has launched on more than 500 missions resulting in more than 300 lives saved, according to the 210th's Web site. The 210th is the first responder for many civilian rescues in Southcentral Alaska. Members are trained in scuba diving, parachuting, mountain climbing and emergency medicine.

Rescues by the 150-member group range from hair-raising high-altitude helicopter recoveries on Mount McKinley to airlifting injured hikers in the Chugach Mountains.

The 210th, which is part of the 176th, has historically deployed for search-and-rescue missions in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

This time, the wing is backfilling for other rescuers who are rotating out, said Vernon Osborn, the 210th's first sergeant.

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