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There is always a first: The 1st Expeditionary Rescue Group Activation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The helicopter was the mainstay of the post-World War II U.S. Air Force rescue structure. Lt. Carter Harman made the first helicopter combat rescue, in Burma behind Japanese lines April 25, 1944. First Air Commando Sgt. Pilot Ed “Murphy” Hladovcak crash-landed his L-1 aircraft with three wounded British soldiers on board. Pushing his YR-4 helicopter to its performance limits, Harman made four flights to the site, making the final hasty liftoff just as shouting soldiers burst from the jungle. He learned later the soldiers were not Japanese, rather an allied land-rescue party.

In March 1946, the Air Rescue Service was established under the Air Transport Command to provide rescue coverage for the continental United States with both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft complete with then-new “pararescue” personnel. By late 1949, ARS aircraft covered all the world’s transport routes as the Nation’s attention turned to Korea.

The Korean Conflict and then the Vietnam War would transform the Air Rescue Service from a generally peacetime search and rescue organization focused on air transport routes into a worldwide-deployable combat search and rescue capability. 

Seventy-one years after Harman’s famous first, the 1st Expeditionary Rescue Group activated at an undisclosed location to support the efforts of Operation Inherent Resolve and continue the legacy of those early rescue Airmen.

Col. Michael Koscheski, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander, presided over the ceremony and is simply referred to as “Col. K” by his 1,100 Airmen who serve with him.  

“The idea of the 1st Rescue Group started out about a year ago when Operation Inherent Resolve kicked off,” said Col. K. “We were looking at different options and at the time the staff was working a lot of the buildup and the planning. It became readily apparent that we needed a rescue group to harmonize rescue initiatives across the Levant Area of Operations.”

Earlier this year, two deliberately planned hostage rescue personnel recovery missions were carried out by U.S. Special Forces to save hostages held by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or Daesh. Among the captives was Muath al-Kasasbeh, a Royal Jordanian air force pilot, who was captured by Daesh after his fighter jet crashed in Syria. The pilot was infamously burned to death in a cage. This event highlighted the need for ready, immediate-recovery combat search and rescue personnel recovery forces.  

U.S. and coalition forces rely on each other during tragic events such as this to further the mission protecting the men and women fighting to degrade ISIL.

Following Col. K’s speech, the 1st ERQG guidon was uncased, unfurled and passed to Col. Gregory Roberts, signifying the reactivation and his assumption of command in Southwest Asia, Sept. 1, 2015.

“The men and women of the new 1st Expeditionary Rescue Group, the 26th, the 52nd and 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons, will continue the Air Force combat search and rescue legacy of vigilance, valor, altruism and excellence,” said Roberts.

The USAF air rescue mission comes under the cognizance of the Air Combat Command. Guardian Angel squadrons are the Air Force's human and equipment-based weapon system consisting of pararescuemen, survival specialists and Combat Rescue Officers. The HH-60 and HC-130 rescue squadrons cooperate to quickly infiltrate into denied territory with pararescuemen and recover survivors or other isolated personnel.

As of Aug. 25, 2015, the U.S. and its coalition forces have conducted a total of 6,419 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Every component, no matter the size, is an integral piece to complete the mission of degrading and defeating ISIL.

“This event, this assumption of command, is just a small testament to that,” said Roberts. “Much bigger evidence is the thousands of protected air crew, conducting thousands of high-risk missions over the vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in Operation Inherent Resolve in defense of our alliance as well as our nations’ coalition’s wills every day.”