Rescue Squadrons train together, compete at Rescue Rodeo

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

For the first time, all active duty, Air National Guard and training fixed-wing rescue squadrons flying the HC-130J Combat King II joined together to compete at the Rescue Rodeo in Salina, Kansas, March 25-29, 2024.

The 71st Rescue Squadron organized the Rescue Rodeo to share best practices, train the new generation of rescue Airmen and build camaraderie across the small, geographically separated community.

“Rescue Rodeo is an annual competition that we are starting this year,” said Maj. Joe Nunley, 71st RQS assistant director of operations. “In the Air Force, rescue is the best of the best around the world. We get together here to determine who, right now, is the king of the hill. It helps to foster unit cohesion; communication; sharing of tactics, techniques, and procedures; as well as morale among the rescue community.”

Airmen from all over the nation who fly the HC-130J Combat King II participated in the event. Competing for the top spot were the rescue professionals from the 79th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; 71st RQS, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Air National Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; 102nd Rescue Squadron, Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, New York; 130th Rescue Squadron, Moffett Federal Airfield, California; and the Air Force Reserve’s 39th Rescue Squadron, Patrick Space Force Base, Florida.

“The HC-130J Combat King II is basically the Swiss Army knife of airplanes; it does literally everything that an airplane can do,” Nunley said. “We came out here and tested our skills in all those different operating areas, and it helped us see where our weaknesses and strengths are to improve across the community. The skillsets we practiced here at the rodeo are things we have and will continue to execute in the real world, both downrange and during our support of civilian activities, whether it's a downed service member behind enemy lines or supporting astronaut search and rescue. You call, we haul, and it's just bread and butter for us.”

Throughout the course, Airmen practiced precision drops, touch-and-go landings, and rescues, which simulated a downed pilot dressed as a famous search-and-find book character.

“It gives us a chance to operate in an environment outside of Moody,” said Lt. Col. Brian Ayers, 71st RQS chief combat systems officer. “It is always good, because it takes us outside of our backyard and lets us work somewhere different, which is valuable for deployments and exercises.”

After three days of competition in a close race between rescue Airmen, the 102nd RQS edged out by a single point over the 211th RQS, securing the trophy sword and bragging rights.

“We were proud to attend and represent all of the 102nd Rescue Squadron,” said Capt. Chaz Smith, 102nd RQS pilot. “We showed who the real kings of rescue are!”