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33rd Rescue Squadron returns from Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rey Ramon
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
After saving 48 lives and transporting 17 injured people to safety, Airmen from Kadena's 33rd Rescue Squadron returned home from a three-month deployment to Afghanistan between Jan. 15 and 19. 

While deployed, the 33rd RQS conducted 24-hour combat search and rescue alerts in support of U.S. and coalition operations. 

"Our deployment was very challenging," said Capt. Kyle Kimberlin, an HH-60 pilot and 33rd RQS A-flight commander. "We flew around through mountainous terrain, horrible weather and what we call 'brownouts' or dust storms." 

The six-month deployment cycle allowed the 33rd RQS to deploy to Afghanistan in two separate flights for three months each. While in country, the squadron became the 33rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron - a combat search and rescue team comprised of 28 operations and 66 maintenance personnel. 

"It was amazing to see our people's true talents and abilities," said Captain Kimberlin. "After being up for 16 to 17 hours, they still wanted to help and do good things." 

Many Airmen were on their first deployment, and after a couple of weeks, it looked as if they'd been doing combat search and rescue for a while, said Master Sgt. Dustin Thomas, an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter aerial gunner and 33rd RQS A-flight chief. 

"This is a good testament to the rescue squadron and our ability to adapt in such an environment," said Sergeant Thomas. 

When not conducting real world rescue operations, the squadron spent their time sharpening their skills along with pararescuemen on training missions. They trained in dangerous areas during the day to familiarize themselves with the terrain before they went on real missions at night, Sergeant Thomas said. 

"We had to worry about brownouts," he said. "[They] would hinder our vision and jeopardize the mission by putting our lives at greater risk." 

In addition to worrying about brownouts, the crewmembers also had to be concerned with the constant threat of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades from insurgents. Because of the hostile environment, crews made doubly sure that all systems were operating properly, so the helicopter had enough power to get over the next ridge and enough fuel to make it to the next site. 

With a crew of five personnel, plus pararescuemen, the aircraft's weight could push the helicopter's performance to the edge when flying in high or low altitudes, sometimes in bad weather conditions, said Sergeant Thomas. Every crew position was taxed during missions, he added. 

"Everyone contributed an enormous amount in making the mission successful," said Captain Kimberlin.