Aviano’s newest airmen parachute in ahead of unit ceremonies
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2018
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – The airmen assigned to the newest units of the 31st Fighter Wing won’t all be parachuting onto base like the five that jumped on Tuesday, though dozens more probably could do that.
The 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons officially become a part of the wing in a realignment ceremony scheduled for June 14.
Depending on weather conditions, that will include a jump like the one the squadrons conducted Tuesday evening, when five pararescuers parachuted from a helicopter onto the base.
About half of the 300 or so airmen from the rescue squadrons and a unit of helicopter maintainers are already on site ahead of the ceremony next week. The rest are expected to be here within a few months.
A small team from each squadron made the move from RAF Lakenheath, England, almost a year ago, and they’ve been getting set up and meeting potential training partners on and off base.
“The (training) potential here is massive,” said Maj. Augustin, assistant director of operations for the 57th, who is identified by only his first name for security reasons. “Now, it’s just getting to understand the processes.”
Aviano’s proximity to the Dolomites, a mountain range in the southern Alps, creates opportunities that the unit didn’t have in England, Augustin said. Nearby lakes and the Adriatic Sea will help keep airmen proficient in water rescue operations.
The 57th is made up of pararescuers, ground control personnel and other assets that allow the unit to rescue downed pilots or others in need of quick aid. They can operate out of helicopters piloted by the 56th, C-130 aircraft based in Europe or in the United States, and several other platforms.
The 56th will maintain a handful of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, though only a few are slated to be operational at any one time.
Both squadrons are expected to train extensively with Italian military units and civilian rescue experts. Several airmen have already undertaken avalanche and search-and-rescue courses with Italian experts, officials said.
The 56th and 57th, whose members train to be available around-the-clock, are the only squadrons of their kind in Europe. The units interact heavily with allied countries in Europe and Africa, serving as mentors while trying to learn lessons as well, Augustin said.
Not having any real-world missions during a tour at Aviano wouldn’t be a bad thing, he added.
“Of course, we don’t want (emergencies) to happen,” he said. “But we’re trained and prepared if they do. It’s usually the worst day in someone’s life if they need us. But if someone does need us, we will be ready.”