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THE 1990s KICKED OFF WITH A BANG
, but the groundwork had been laid three years before.
In 1987, the Air Force announced that Elmendorf's famed 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron was being deactivated.
Sen. Ted Stevens, the senior member of Alaska's congressional delegation, asked Alaska Air National Guard leaders if they were interested in taking over the mission. The Alaska Air Guard was heavily involved in activating the 168th Air Refueling Squadron at Eielson, but interest was high, and the answer to Stevens' query was a resounding "yes."
At the end of the year, Stevens announced he was seeking $74 million to acquire the aircraft the new Guard unit would need. Over the next few years, representatives from the National Guard Bureau would visit Alaska many times, conducting site surveys and helping lay the groundwork for the new organization.
In early 1989 the new unit began hiring its first full-time personnel. From April through June of that year, the maintenance and operations personnel trained on a UH-60A Black Hawk on loan from the National Guard Bureau.
With all the pieces falling into place, the 210th Air Rescue Squadron was officially recognized by the federal government on April 4, 1990.
(The 210th moniker was derived from a bit of Air Force history: During the 1940s and 1950s, the old 10th Rescue Boat and Air Rescue Squadrons had gained fame for pioneering arctic search and rescue techniques on numerous daring missions. Alaska Air National Guard historian MSgt. Cliff Salisbury researched the history of the 10th and received Air Force approval to have the new unit designated the 210th -- or "second 10th" -- in its honor.)
The military mission of the 210th was Combat Search and Rescue -- picking up downed aircrew members during wartime. Beyond that, the 210th had an important peacetime mission: to stand on constant 24-hour alert, ready to rescue military personnel and civilians stranded in Alaska's unpredictable wilderness.
The 210th became the first U.S.-based rescue unit to receive the new MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter when its first one arrived in June 1990 (they would be redesignated HH-60Gs in 1992). Three others arrived by August.
The 210th was formally activated with much fanfare August 11, 1990. Guests included Sen. Stevens, Brig. Gen. Lee Lucas (Col. Lars Johnson's former aide), and two dozen former members of the old 10th Rescue Squadron. Uncasing the guidon, one veteran of the 10th passed it to 176th Composite Group Commander Col. Ken Taylor, who passed it in turn to Lt. Col. Gene Ramsay, the new squadron's first commander.
Organizational work continued, and in November and December the first of the 210th's new HC-130Ns arrived. These airborne tankers were equipped to supply the Pave Hawks with aerial refueling. They were also able to serve as airborne search vehicles and as platforms for pararescue and equipment air drops.
That others may live
Between January and March 1991, the 210th rescuers rolled into action, initially sharing the 24-hour Alaska Theater helicopter alert duties with the de-activating 71st. They received credit for their first four saves January 18, rescuing survivors of a light plane crash near Cordova. In April they mounted their first high-altitude rescue, plucking two climbers from the 8,000-foot level of Mt. Jarvis. The next month the squadron would leave that mark in the dust, setting an Air Force record by saving a climber stranded at the 14,400-foot level of Mt. McKinley.
More achievements followed, and the 210th began to receive notice in the national press.
In June, responding to a request from the U.S. Coast Guard, the unit flew its first long-range mission over water to rescue an injured mariner whose boat was beyond the unrefueled range of the Coast Guard's helicopters.
In late October the Alaska Air National Guard received an urgent request to help rescue the freezing survivors of the crash of a Canadian C-130 on Ellsmere Island, 430 miles from the North Pole. An HC-130 was dispatched to the site while maintenance crews at Kulis worked frantically to partially disassemble two Pave Hawks and load them aboard a waiting C-5 "Galaxy" transport. Arriving in Greenland shortly after midnight, the crews worked feverishly to reassemble the aircraft. The helicopters were put back together and in the air in less than seven hours; together with the HC-130, they were credited with 13 saves.
In only its first year of operation, the 210th Rescue Squadron was given credit for saving 72 lives and assisting in the rescue of 20 more.
Rescuing Alaskans in need may have been the most visible Alaska Air National Guard activity in the 1990s, but outside the glare of the spotlight the organization was as busy as ever.
In 1994, for example, the last contingent of Alaska Air National Guard members returned home from their second overseas rotation to Kuwait. For a period of five months, some 60 members rotated through there on 60-day schedules, while rescuers from the 210th operated two helicopters out of the desert kingdom in support of U.S. fighters patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq.
Two aircraft and aircrews from the 144th also flew numerous sorties in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, airlifting cargo and personnel being staged for deployment in the Gulf. And, among other deployments, members of the 176 Clinic went to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to backfill for personnel assigned to the Mideast.
On October 1, 1995, the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Composite Group became the 176th Wing. The next month, the organization hit the 120,000 accident-free flying hour mark. From the tragic 1965 C-123 crash near Cape Romanzof until 1995, the Alaska Air National Guard had taken on Alaska's dangerous flying conditions without a single major accident. The mark would continue to the end of the decade and beyond.
TIMELINE - 1990s
210th Air Rescue Squadron activated. 168th Aerial Refueling Squadron grows to Group size, doubling its number of KC-135 "Stratotankers" from four to eight.
On August 2, the 176 Composite Group passes the 100,000-hour accident-free flying mark.
AKANG volunteers begin restoring one of the organization's old C-47 "Gooney Birds" for eventual display on Kulis. Consolidated Base Personnel Office becomes Military Personnel Flight.
176 WG hits 120,000-hour accident-free flying mark. The last major mishap was at Cape Romanzof in 1965.
Col. Van P Williams Jr., commander of the 168 ARS, leaves that organization to assume command of the 176th Wing. In September 2000 he will become the first general to command the 176th.
Five 210 RQS pararescuers are awarded the prestigious MacKay Trophy for Meritorious Flight. The award is presented for the daring 1998 rescue of six people off Mt. Torbert, west of Anchorage.
176TH WING history