Subscribe
An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron hovers over the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, before heading upward and dropping pararescue personnel onto the base.

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron hovers over the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, before heading upward and dropping pararescue personnel onto the base. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron hovers over the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, before heading upward and dropping pararescue personnel onto the base.

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron hovers over the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, before heading upward and dropping pararescue personnel onto the base. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Pararescue airmen from the 57th Rescue Squadron float downward toward the runway at Aviano Air Base during a training jump on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The 56th and 57th have recently arrived at their new base after relocating from RAF Lakenheath in England.

Pararescue airmen from the 57th Rescue Squadron float downward toward the runway at Aviano Air Base during a training jump on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The 56th and 57th have recently arrived at their new base after relocating from RAF Lakenheath in England. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron swings back and forth in his parachute while approaching the ground at Aviano Air Base on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron swings back and forth in his parachute while approaching the ground at Aviano Air Base on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A pararescue airman assigned to the 57th Rescue  Squadron gets ready to set down on Aviano Air Base, Italy, during training for the newly relocated unit on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

A pararescue airman assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron gets ready to set down on Aviano Air Base, Italy, during training for the newly relocated unit on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron gets ready to touch down on Aviano Air Base, Italy, during a training jump on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron gets ready to touch down on Aviano Air Base, Italy, during a training jump on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron gets set to make a perfect landing on Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Five members of the squadron jumped on their new home base with the help of a helicopter from the 56th Rescue Squadron.

An airman from the 57th Rescue Squadron gets set to make a perfect landing on Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Five members of the squadron jumped on their new home base with the help of a helicopter from the 56th Rescue Squadron. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A pararescueman from the 57th Rescue Squadron glides down toward a grassy patch between sections of the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The 56th and 57th officially become a part of the 31st Fighter Wing next week after moving from RAF Lakenheath in England.

A pararescueman from the 57th Rescue Squadron glides down toward a grassy patch between sections of the runway at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The 56th and 57th officially become a part of the 31st Fighter Wing next week after moving from RAF Lakenheath in England. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Cloudy skies didn't stop members of the 57th Rescue Squadron from making a training jump onto Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

Cloudy skies didn't stop members of the 57th Rescue Squadron from making a training jump onto Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

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.”

harris.kent@stripes.com

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up