US Reserve Citizen airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing were honoured with the 2017 Jolly Green Association Rescue of the Year award for a mission that they carried out in July 2017.
Thirty-three airmen took part in the mission, which saw the Rescue Wing save two German sailors who had become stranded in the Atlantic Ocean, over 500 miles from the Florida coast. The mission involved over 30 hours of collective flying, with the unit utilising its HH-60 Pave Hawks and HC-130N Kings. There were eight air refuellings in total, involving a total of 16,600 pounds of fuel, as well as a precisely executed open-ocean rescue insertion and a highly technical night-time shipboard patient exfil.
“Please extend my congratulations to the crews of Air Force Rescue 05/06/235/237 and the associated Guardian Angel teams,” wrote Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for operations, Headquarters US Air Force, in a letter to the airmen involved. “My heartfelt thanks goes [sic] out to the warriors who live by the motto, ‘These things we do, that others may live.’ I am especially proud of the teamwork displayed by multiple aircrews and Guardian Angel teams in performing the most outstanding US Air Force rescue mission in 2017.”
Colonel Kurt Matthews recounted the operation, calling it ‘extremely complex and unusual’. When the call came in to inform them about the stranded sailors, Col. Matthews admitted that the division was not in the best position to tackle the mission, with the helicopter crews on crew rest and both HC-130s – which are used to refuel the HH-60 Pave Hawk and transport the Guardian Angel crews – out of action.
However, within two hours the first HC-130 was repaired and two hours after that it set out with the HH-60 Pave Hawk to the scene. When the HC-130 arrived, the Guardian Angel team parachuted out, along with a Zodiac inflatable boat and medical equipment. They quickly reached the survivors. The HH-60 Pave Hawk teams then arrived and hoisted the men, before heading towards Orlando Regional Medical Center.
“I was lucky to be crew rested that day and glad to participate along with 32 other professionals who took to the air in a very memorable rescue that bridged German-American relations and solidified our noble mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Randolph Wells, 301st Rescue Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager. “This award recognises the hard work, dedication and compassion all rescue professionals have for their craft.”