New York Guardsmen stay on alert to save lives

Ravage

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http://www.bagram.afcent.af.mil/news/story_media.asp?id=123146163

4/25/2009 - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- While all Airmen assigned to rescue squadrons throughout the Air Force know and follow the motto "So that others may live," there is one rescue squadron, deployed to Afghanistan, that takes this personal.

"There is something that sets our unit apart from all the others," explained Senior Master Sgt. James "Mac" McAleavey, an HH-60 aerial gunner supporting Operation Enduring Freedom along with more than 75 other Airmen from the 101st Rescue Squadron from West Hampton Beach, N.Y. "Our unit is from the city where it all started ... New York City is home field for all of us."

Roughly half of the four aircrews deployed from the Air National Guard unit are either police officers or firefighters back home - including Senior Master Sgt. Glen Berg, an aerial gunner and firefighter who wears "FDNY" and "9-11, Never Forget" patches on his body armor as a reminder why his unit is in Afghanistan.

"Maj. [Curtis] Green's fire house and the fire house I work for lost firefighters that day," explained Capt. Shaun Cullen, an HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot who also works full time as a firefighter back home. "I worked on Wall Street with an investing firm at the time and saw the explosions from the back side of my office."

The captain said one of the benefits of being in law enforcement or firefighting back home is that it's very similar in nature to providing combat search and rescue capabilities in Afghanistan.

"You never know what kind of situation you're going to get into," he explained. "You constantly have to be in an alert posture ... ready to go."

In the past seven years, the unit has deployed five times including one deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003 and two deployments to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2005 and 2007. The unit's current five-month deployment here is slated to end next month.

"Combat search and rescue is a tough job because you don't want to put your skills to use. If you do, that means someone is having a bad day," explained Lt. Col. Eugene Sengstacken, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander here. "When we get the call, everybody has their game on because we all know what's at stake. It's those times that you see how professional your people are and what they are willing to risk to get the job done."

For "Mac," it's easy to understand what's at stake because his son recently graduated from the Army's explosive ordnance disposal training to become an EOD technician. His son's unit is slated to deploy to Afghanistan next year.

"It's all about saving lives," said the 26-year retired detective from Lindenhurst, N.Y. "If we save just one life in our entire career, it was all worth it. With my son now serving in EOD, I would hope that a unit like ours would do the same for my son if he was wounded."

But sometimes "Mac" admits their mission to save servicemembers is bittersweet.
"We've brought back people who didn't make it," he said. "But we brought them home for their families so they can have closure."

To stay sharp when the alert calls are sparse, the team finds ways to fine tune their skill sets - whether flying training missions to deliver humanitarian supplies, or firing off the aerial guns on the firing range.

Tech. Sgt. Jedediah Smith, a seven-year veteran pararescuemen, visits the hospital here to brush up on his field medicine techniques. He also trains some of the aircrew on basic techniques in case he is injured during a mission.

"It's important that everyone has some basic medical skills, because nobody really knows who the patient is going to be," said Sergeant Smith, who totes a little brown teddy bear from his four-year-old daughter's school with him "pretty much everywhere" he goes.

The New York Guardsmen look forward to catching up with friends and family as crewmembers from the 56th Rescue Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, arrive next month.

But until they leave on the coveted rotator flight back home, the 101st RQS remains vigilant here "so that others may live."

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First Lt. Shaun Cullen, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pilot, and Capt. Robert Felix, 492nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flight surgeon, walk out to an HH-60 Pave Hawk prior to a training mission April 20. The 101st ERQS, deployed here from West Hampton Beach, N.Y., provides combat search and rescue capability for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Nearly half of the New York Air National Guard aircrews deployed here are firefighters or police officers back home including Lieutenant Cullen.

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First Lt. Brent McCall, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron combat rescue officer, and Tech. Sgt. Jedediah Smith, 101st ERQS pararescueman, load up their gear for a training mission in Northeastern Afghanistan, April 20. In addition to an M-4 assault rifle, combat medical gear and body armor, Sergeant Smith also packs his four-year-old daughter Mia's pre-school class teddy bear. The seven-year New York Air National Guardsman said he brings the little guy along with him on all his missions and writes letters to her school on behalf of the bear. "He pretty much goes everywhere I go," Sergeant Smith said, including the eight combat search and rescue missions he's done since he deployed here.

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Senior Master Sgt. Glen Berg, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, gets together his gear before a mission here. Sergeant Berg, a New York Air National Guardsman, is an aerial gunner for the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters here and a New York City firefighter back home. Some of the New York Guardsmen in the 101st ERQS wear patches like this 9-11 patch as a reminder while they stand on alert to rescue downed pilots and ground troops wounded behind enemy lines. New York's 101st Rescue Squadron from West Hampton Beach, N.Y., is preparing to head home after supporting Operation Enduring Freedom for nearly five months.

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Senior Master Sgt. Glen Berg, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron aerial gunner, loads his rail gun on the HH-60 Pave Hawk before taking off on a training mission here April 20. The 101st ERQS, deployed here from West Hampton Beach, N.Y., provides combat search and rescue capability for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

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Senior Master Sgt. Glen Berg, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron aerial gunner, mans his HH-60 Pave Hawk rail gun before taking off on a training mission here April 20.
 

Ravage

running up that hill
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Capt. Tamar Hassan, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pilot, conducts pre-flight checks on an HH-60 Pave Hawk prior to a training mission here April 20. The 101st ERQS, deployed here from West Hampton Beach, N.Y., provides combat search and rescue capability for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

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Lt. Col. Eugene Sengstacken, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander, and Capt. Tamar Hassan, 101st ERQS co-pilot, start up the engines on a HH-60 Pave Hawk before taking off on a training mission here April 20.

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A 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Pave Hawk flies through the Hindu Kush mountain passes during a training mission here April 20.

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Capt. Tamar Hassan, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron co-pilot, trails behind the lead HH-60 Pave Hawk during a training mission in Northeastern Afghanistan April 20.

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Tech. Sgt. Jedediah Smith, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pararescueman, surveys the landscape for threats during a training mission in Northeastern Afghanistan April 20.
 
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