Air Commandos from the 67th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) trained alongside their brethren from the 56th and 57th Air Rescue Squadrons (RQS) in Croatia, honing their personnel recovery skills. The 67th SOS flies the MC-130J Commando II, which offers special operations infiltration, exfiltration and resupply capabilities.
“Personnel recovery is not one of our core missions or mission essential tasks, however, being forward-staged makes us able to assist in personnel recovery missions in the European theatre,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Marty Weeks, commander of the 67th SOS, according to DVIDS. “Especially since the 56th (and 57th) RQS relocated from RAF Lakenheath to Aviano Air Base, our opportunities to work with them have become more infrequent.”
Air Rescue Squadrons are mainly composed of the helicopter crews and pararescuemen. Often, they are augmented by other specialized airmen such as the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) airmen who are experts in fieldcraft. Air Rescue Squadrons fall under the Air Combat Command and they specialize in personnel recovery.
Special Tactics Squadrons, on the other hand, are composed of combat controllers, pararescuemen, special operations weather technicians — soon to be special reconnaissance — and tactical air control party airmen, who are experts in close air support. Special Tactics Squadrons fall under the Air Force Special Operations Command and cover a wide range of roles, including combat search and rescue, close air support, air traffic control, airfield operations, and special reconnaissance.
A SERE airman assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing, which supports the 56th and 57th RQS, said their “goal was to test the ability of aircraft communicating safely and effectively with each other in order to pick someone up, that might find themselves on the other side of the fence or behind enemy lines, in order to get them back safely and sound.”
“What we provide to this exercise, and in a real-world situation, are the capabilities of air-dropping the Guardian Angel team (the pararescuemen) from a high-altitude, stand-off position, provide over-watch with our on-board equipment, as well as provide an airborne, mission-commander role with the robust communication suite that we have,” added Colonel Weeks, speaking to DVIDS.
Such exercises are crucial in preparing for a potential conflict in Europe against Russia or anywhere in the world. The participating units, especially the 56th and 57th RQS, are the closest personnel recovery units in Africa, which is brimming with U.S. and allied special operations units. Their capabilities could be very useful in case of a Benghazi-like scenario — if they are employed correctly, that is.
“In future conflicts we may be called upon, it’s important that other units, that may not own personnel recovery tasks, understand that they are still capable assets that can get overhead and support personnel recovery effectively,” added the SERE airman. ”I say, do it more, do it often. If we train to potential scenarios, there are reduced risk and mistakes if we are called upon to support in the future. Integrating other units makes not just the specific training, but the mission set, more successful.”