Lakenheath rescue squadrons make final flight in move to Aviano
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — A crowd of airmen gathered near the taxiway Tuesday, took pictures and watched two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters fly toward Aviano Air Base.
Over the last couple of months, the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons have relocated 350 airmen, 200 military families and five helicopters to their new duty station in Italy.
Their former home at RAF Lakenheath, nicknamed “The Valley of the Jolly Green Giants,” is now empty. The move, announced in 2015, aims to position operations closer to possible trouble spots in Eastern Europe and Africa.
“This marks the end of an era for the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons. But no matter where we’re located, we remain ready to deliver combat search and rescue capabilities wherever and whenever they’re needed,” 56th RQS commander Lt. Col. Leslie Semrau said.
The 56th RQS is the smallest combat search and rescue in the Air Force, but it has a history dating back to 1952, when it was involved in operations spanning Southern Europe and the North African regions.
Through the mid-1970s, the 56th RQS performed combat recovery and local search and rescue missions in the Vietnam War.
In June 2006, the squadron relocated from Keflavik, Iceland, to RAF Lakenheath and earned about 600 saves and assists in support of operations throughout the last 12 years in the U.K.
Originally activated as the 57th Air Rescue Squadron in 1952 at Lajes Field, Azores, the 57th was later reactivated as the 57th Rescue Squadron at RAF Lakenheath in February 2015.
The squadron is most famous for the rescue at sea in 1959 of 48 people from a Portuguese ship named the SS Arnel, which crashed into rocks near the island of Santa Maria.
“I am extraordinarily proud to have served with the men and women of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons,” said Col. Evan Pettus, 48th Fighter Wing commander. “During their time here, they have been directly responsible for saving countless lives as well as drawing us closer to our allies through cooperation, training and shared ideals.”
The 56th and 57th RQS are scheduled to officially complete their move by next month and will continue combat search and rescue operations during the transition.
“We are always prepared to deploy in response to our nation and allies’ needs worldwide,” Semrau said. “There’ll be a little bit of time to reconstitute the squadron and make sure we settle our families into the local area but, without a doubt, we will be ready to go when called on.”