U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Andre Butler, 33rd Rescue Squadron crew chief, checks the tail of an HH-60 Pave Hawk Sept. 19, 2019, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The HH-60 Pave Hawk has a hoist capable of lifting up to 600 pounds during personnel recovery missions. (Photo by Senior Airman Rhett Isbell)
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The 33rd Rescue Squadron (RQS) at Kadena Air Base, Japan, train, plan and execute every day to ensure they have what it takes to help when someone’s life is on the line.
With a motto as succinct as, ‘That others may live’, it’s clear the priority of the 33rd RQS is saving as many people as possible from otherwise dire circumstances no matter the cost to themselves.
“We provide a reliable combat search and rescue platform to aid in exercises and real-world operations in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility,” said Airman 1st Class Jack Peterson, 33rd RQS special missions aviator. “I think we give people peace of mind, knowing somebody’s going to come looking for them if they go down.”
Being capable of providing this high-priority service at a moment’s notice doesn’t happen without extensive training to ensure the entire team is prepared for what’s required on a rescue mission.
“We go out and practice regularly,” said Capt. Howard Palmer, 33rd RQS flight commander. “We’ll fly out and train in situation with simulated bad guys where we have to get through them to rescue members."
These training missions also cover many other aspects needed during a real-world rescue such as low-level flying, hoisting, water operations, entering contested environments, and many others the rescue Airmen rely on. Conducting operations with so much on the line requires Airmen to have an unwavering, as well as caring, mindset.
“I decided to go into the rescue mission because it allows me to help people,” Palmer said. “When someone’s having the worst day of their life, you get to be the one that goes in and saves them.”
Airmen from the 33rd RQS have found one thing above all others makes the hard work worth it.
“It’s a small community,” Palmer said. “People have said, ‘Low density, high demand’ and it helps build some pretty strong bonds. I stay because of those bonds and being able to do a mission that means a lot to me.”