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31st, 33rd Rescue Squadrons ensure 'that others may live'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amanda Savannah
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Whether an emergency at sea or an ambush on the ground at a deployed location calls for the retrieval of military members from a deadly situation, members of the 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons here are ready to complete the mission at any time.

Though they are ultimately both responsible for saving lives and following their mutual motto, "These things we do that others may live," they are separate squadrons with individual missions and career fields.

The 31st RQS trains, equips and employs combat-ready rescue specialists.

"Primarily in [Pacific Air Forces], [the squadron's mission] is for personnel rescue in any fashion, whether it be from a helicopter or fixed-wing [aircraft], on the ground, in the mountains -- anywhere they need us we can go," said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Tweeter, 31st RQS superintendent.

The 31st RQS is made of combat rescue officers, pararescue, or PJ, specialists, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists who work together to facilitate the return of isolated personnel back to friendly forces. The squadron also has support sections such as aircrew flight equipment, an armory, admin Airmen and more.

"As a squadron, it's all dedicated to that rescue mission," Tweeter said.

First the 31st Special Operations Squadron, the 31st SOS was constituted as the 31st Air Rescue Squadron on Oct. 17, 1952. The squadron made combat rescues in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1966 and also operated the Joint Rescue Coordination Center for 13th Air Force from April 1967 to July 1975. They took part in disaster relief missions in the Philippines July 16 to 31, 1990, and in May 1993 the squadron was redesignated the 31st RQS under the 18th Wing.

The 33rd RQS operates HH-60 Pave Hawk aircraft to conduct search and rescue missions.

"The mission for the 33rd is basically the same mindset [as the 31st] -- anywhere in the PACAF theater [where a personnel rescue mission is needed], we can deploy and go there," said Tech. Sgt. Heath Culbertson, 33rd RQS A-Flight commander.

The 33rd RQS is made of gunners, flight engineers and pilots who make up the fundamental aircrew to perform a mission.

"In addition to that we have our arms troops, our AFE troops and support personnel to help us," Culbertson said. "Everywhere in the Air Force, we need everybody to work together to make one mission happen and we couldn't do it without these individuals."

The 33rd RQS has performed search, rescue and recovery missions since 1952. The squadron flew missions in support of the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1967; supported operations following the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo by North Korea from Jan. 29 to Sept. 16, 1968; and aided search efforts and salvage operations from September to October 1983, after a Soviet fighter aircraft shot down a South Korean airliner.

To put the difference between the squadrons simply, the 33rd RQS provides the HH-60 Pave Hawk and flight crew for many units' rescue missions, while the 31st RQS provides the rescue Airmen who can prosecute rescue missions from different types of aircraft, Culbertson said.

"We're all operators ... we're all different [Air Force Specialty Coded-Airmen], but same basic job," he said.

While the squadrons are separate, as they are both stationed on Kadena and are both responsible for personnel rescue, they often work together on local missions and training. For example, they perform night time training and alert to keep their Airmen sharp in their skills and ready for any situation at any time of day.

"If the fighter [squadrons] are doing night alert, both of our squadrons are on alert for night missions because the Japanese Air Self Defense Force or Japanese Coast Guard have it during the day," said Culbertson. "If we have to do a water mission, we can't do that mission without PJs on board, so we call the 31st and now we have a crew complement to go out and prosecute that mission."

However, it's a rare opportunity when the squadrons are able to deploy together - an opportunity they are currently experiencing in Afghanistan.

"It doesn't happen too often that the schedules line up to where one base ends up deploying together; usually it's a mixture of other rescue squadrons throughout the world, each on their own," Tweeter said. "The helicopters are on a different schedule than the PJs, so it's usually a rainbow of different squadrons, but this time it happened to work out to where both Kadena units actually ended up in one place together. It's rare but it's a really good opportunity to actually take home station training and go straight into a combat theater and know each other and how we work. Even though the tactics, techniques and procedures [for any rescue squadron] are similar, it's really convenient to know the people you're flying with well and trust them, so it's a good opportunity," Tweeter said.

Whether working together or separately, here or abroad, the Airmen of the 31st and 33rd work hard every day to save lives.

"The reason I love getting up and doing my job every day is not only for the obvious of saving lives ... and getting isolated personnel back to their families, but it is each and every day ... getting to walk the halls with heroes," Culbertson said. "Everybody in both squadrons, we've all done our missions ... we constantly train ... to make sure that whenever 'it' hits the fan, we're ready to prosecute it and do it safely and effectively. So the best part about my job is being able to walk the halls with these heroes each and every day, in both squadrons.

"We take this, this is a voluntary job, and we put ourselves at risk for just the motto of both our squadrons -- 'These things we do that others may live.'"