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106th Rescue Wing Takes Top Prize at Air Force Rescue Competition

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sean Madden
  • 106th Rescue Wing

Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, N.Y., — The 101st Rescue Squadron, assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard, won the Top Squadron award at a competition for combat search and rescue, also known as CSAR, at Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida, November 2023.

The 101st Rescue Squadron competed against six other squadrons from across the Air Force.

It’s a competition, but it’s also an opportunity to sharpen skills and to learn from others in the CSAR community, said Lt Col. Justin Wolfe, a helicopter rescue pilot assigned to the 101st Rescue Squadron. Importantly, for the next generation of rescue aircrews, it’s an opportunity for newer Airmen to network within what is a small community and gain valuable experience, he added.

The Top Squadron award combines the overall scores for best time, best pilot and best special missions aviator. Aircrews are scored individually and as a team.

Rescue helicopter aircrews include pilot, co-pilot and two special missions aviators (SMA). Special missions aviators are enlisted aircrew members who are responsible for pre-flight aircraft inspection, the placement and delivery of all cargo on board, and deployment and recovery of passengers and rescue specialists, including Air Force pararescuemen and their patients. To ensure mission success, the highly trained crew members monitor aircraft functions and provide weapon defense.

“Having finished initial qualification training under a year ago, the opportunity to participate in an event like this was awesome,” said Airman 1st Class Robert Schmidt, a special missions aviator assigned to the 101st Rescue Squadron. “I’d go every year if they asked me to,” he added.

The focus on task is intense, Schmidt explained. You have the opportunity to learn from instructors or more experienced SMAs, who help adjust how something is done and very quickly see how the changes shave critical time off the task, he said.

Some categories the squadrons competed in were confined hoisting, accuracy in firing helicopter-mounted machine guns, helicopter air-to-air refueling, degraded search and navigation.

Confined hoisting involves extracting individuals from locations with limited access such as dense forests, cliffs and canyons. It can involve lowering a pararescueman to an isolated patient or dropping the hoist line to the survivor to lift them to the helicopter.

During midair refueling, the pilot guides the refueling probe to the hose-and-drogue system extended from an HC-130J Combat King II aircraft.

The degraded navigation portion had aircrew simulate a failure of their GPS navigation systems while the degraded search event involved an enemy jamming radio signals from the simulated survivor.

Individual awards earned by the 101st were Lt. Col. Justin Wolfe for Most Tactically Sound Pilot in all of Rescue; Lt. Col. Matthew Forbes won the Fixed Forward Fire and navigation competitions; Capt. Ryan Fennell won the fastest helicopter air to air refueling competition and MSgt. Barry Wood won the Top Gun competition for best gunner.

The 101st is scheduled to participate in the competition again later this year, where they will have the opportunity to defend their individual awards and the title of Top Squadron.

The 106th Rescue Wing, based at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, operates and maintains the HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft, and the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. The 106th RQW is home to a special warfare squadron with pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, specializing in rescue and recovery, and deploys for domestic and overseas operations.