41st Rescue Squadron earns Air Force Squadron, Mission of the Year

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Leonid Soubbotine
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Rescue squadrons are force multipliers that give military leaders the freedom and confidence to operate with the knowledge that pilots and aircrew have the backup of highly skilled and trained professionals just a call away. 

Whether conducting combat search and rescue (CSAR) or supporting civil authorities during a natural disaster, these units have the training, equipment and experience necessary to save lives in austere or challenging environments.

Braving enemy fire, difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions to extract and provide critical medical care to those in need is one of the primary functions of military rescue squadrons. In the midst of armed conflict, providing swift operations to the wounded, stranded or captured U.S. and allied forces can often mean the difference between life and death.

The training and teamwork it takes to become expert life savers is tremendous, and that’s why the 41st Rescue Squadron earned the Air Force Rescue Squadron of the Year and Rescue Mission of the Year awards at an Air Force Rescue Gala in Las Vegas in September.

On Dec. 23, 2022, during their first HH-60W Jolly Green II combat deployment in Africa, the skilled Moody pilots and aircrew of 41st Rescue Squadron were able to perform successful combat rescues, resulting in two lives saved. View the full story here.

To prepare for this tasking, Airmen from the 41st RQS became familiar with the new airframe, developing technical skills and tactical proficiency. They also must stay physically fit for the unique demands of the job, under the watchful eyes of strength and conditioning coaches. 

Nearly six months leading up to the deployment, the crews made sure everyone was on the same page and able to perform at the highest level at a moment’s notice if the call came.

“We train the scramble drills, which is essentially launching as soon as the
alert happens,” said Capt. Abby Norwood, 41st RQS Instructor Pilot/Mission Flight Lead. “As a whole, that’s normal training. That allowed us to get off the ground expeditiously.”

Over time, these scrambles hone their skillsets to create the legendary capabilities of Air Force rescue.

As a testament to that, in December 2022 when partner forces reported casualties due to an ongoing engagement with enemy fighters in pre-dawn hours, HH-60W helicopter crews reacted well ahead of their contracted response time and were able to cover the 130 miles quickly. Despite restricted visibility conditions, hazardous obstructions and radio communication issues with partner forces, the pararescue team wasted no time locating critically wounded patients and delivering them to the nearest damage control surgery center, while administering in-flight emergency care.

“I cannot overstate how proud I am of our team,” Norwood said about the speed of efficient muscle memory. “Everyone responded with complete professionalism, doing exactly what we train to. Our intel troops answered the call and woke the crews, maintenance ran to prepare the aircraft, the aircrew started engines, the PJs developed their medical gameplan, and the command team coordinated with outside agencies to receive our launch and execute approval.”

That quick-reaction expertise wasn’t lost after their deployment ended, either. Their experiences, after-action reports and lessons learned are already being used to empower other squadrons that are upgrading to the HH-60W.

“We have to take everything we’ve spent two and a half years developing and send that out to the rest of the Combat Air Forces,” said Lt. Col. Thaddeus Ronnau, 41st RQS commander. “It’s the natural flow of things in order to have that quality spread throughout the entire community. That’s our next big challenge moving forward.”

As the nature of conflict or disaster evolves, the Air Force must continue to develop their concept of operations for a potential peer-adversary fight. And through it all, members of the rescue community will be relentlessly training to render aid and save lives at a moment’s notice.