JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass met with the command group and Guard Airmen of 176th Wing here Jan. 10.
Bass, the 19th CMSAF, visited Guard, regular Air Force and Air Force Reserve Airmen during her Alaska trip to JBER, Eielson Air Force Base and Point Barrow on the arctic coast of Alaska.
Brig. Gen. Anthony Stratton, 176th Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Peter Pratt, 176th Wing command chief, met Bass at the wing headquarters before a wing capabilities presentation.
Stratton briefed the wing missions of air defense, combat search and rescue, strategic airlift and tactical airlift.
The wing commander explained the composition of the wing’s Rescue Triad comprising HH-60G Pave Hawk Airmen of the 210th Rescue Squadron, HC-130J Combat King II Airmen of the 211th Rescue Squadron, and Guardian Angels of the 212th Rescue Squadron.
Stratton said the Rescue Triad supports the air sovereignty mission carried out by F-22 Raptor fighters of the 11th Air Force.
“We sit search and rescue alert 24/7 because it goes along with the air sovereignty mission,” he said. “Primarily what we’re here for is if the F-22 folks have a bad day when they go out and intercept the Russians.”
Guardsmen of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center provide search and rescue command and control in support of the 11th AF. Stratton said they also control rescue missions for the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Alaska, the Alaska Army National Guard, the Alaska State Troopers, the National Park Service, the Civil Air Patrol and other agencies.
Providing the 11th AF with radar search and tracking as well as air battle management of the
Raptors are Airmen of the 176th Air Defense Squadron who stand alert 24/7/365 in the Region Air Operations Center.
In the RAOC, plaques overlooking the radar screens operated by 176th ADS Airmen signify decades of air sovereignty missions controlled by the unit.
“On the wall, they have several hundred red stars, which are all of the intercepts they have done since the Air National Guard has owned that mission set,” Stratton said. “If you take the Eastern, Western and the Pacific Air Defense Sectors together, they have about 15 total.”
Stratton said the missions require tight integration with 11th Air Force commander Lt. General David Krumm and his staff.
“One of the things that makes us unique and the Airmen in this wing unique is we do all of the search and rescue for General Krumm, we do all of the air defense for General Krumm, and we do all of the rescue coordination for General Krumm,” Stratton said.
Airmen of the 144th Airlift Squadron operate eight C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and provide tactical and strategic airlift worldwide.
“We give two of those jets every single day to the United States Transportation Command,” Stratton said. “One gets used here in the Pacific, and one gets used by Air Mobility Command.”
The 144th AS provided C-17s in support of Operation Allies Refuge, evacuating hundreds of Afghans and allied personnel.
While the Rescue Triad stands alert in support of 11th AF, they are also available to rescue Alaskans in distress. With highways covering a tiny fraction of the state’s 663,000 square miles, all-weather military aviation is often the only means of rescue.
“The incidental benefit to the state of Alaska is we typically save 150-160 lives a year,” Stratton said before talking about the challenges of the limited road system. “That’s one of the things that drives the utilization of the Rescue Triad. If someone gets trapped out there, there really is no way to get to them in a timely fashion.”
Stratton explained how the 176th Wing combines operational, maintenance, mission support and medical functions in one wing to support worldwide contingency operations and crisis response for the state and the country.
“Unique here on JBER, you have Col. (Travolis) Simmons running 3rd Wing and Col. (Kirsten) Aguilar running the 673d Air Base Wing, and together I have all of their functions: maintenance, operations, medical and support,” he said. “Inside of that are all of our domestic support functions: the security forces, the civil engineers, and firefighters get used on a regular basis.”
Recently, the wing used those functions to provide support to communities affected by hurricane-force winds that ravaged much of Alaska.
“We had Guardsmen out there checking on folks in their homes, taking water, and taking food during the past two weeks,” Stratton said.
During her visit to the 212th Rescue Squadron attended by commanders, chiefs, and Arctic Guardians from across the wing, Bass acknowledged the unique contributions that traditional drill-weekend Guardsmen bring to the total force through their civilian education and work experience. She highlighted how part-time Guardsmen ready to activate or deploy on a moment’s notice provides capacity to the Air Force while saving money.
“We know the value we get with our Guard and our Reserve, period,” she said. “We get an unmatched capability with the civilian and military experience you bring to the fight. It’s something we can’t replace.”