Recently, Florida’s Space Coast took notice of an unusual flock of birds prowling their skies. Pave Hawks and C-130s are a common and expected sight, assets of Patrick Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Reserve 920th Rescue Wing, but not A-10s, who came to Florida to hone their Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) skills alongside the 920th’s Guardian Angel airmen of the 301st Rescue Squadron.
“Operation Space Coast” kicked off on Jan. 22, beginning a two-week exercise with six A-10 Thunderbolt II’s from the “Red Devils” 107th Fighter Squadron / 127th Wing from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mi., joining the 920th for various multi-airframe CSAR simulations.
“In Michigan during the winter months it becomes difficult to train due to the weather, and this year we joined Airmen here at Patrick Air Force Base to ensure our pilots remain current with their training requirements,” said Capt. Jason Davenport, a 127th Wing A-10 pilot. “It also gave us an opportunity to train out of our comfort zones, in new environments and with people we could be working with during future operations.”
The “Red Devils” are one of the oldest flying units in the U.S. Air Force, first organized as the 107th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas, in August 1917 in response to the U.S. entry into World War I.
Responsible for a variety of demanding missions and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, the 920th’s airmen are trained to perform some of the most highly-specialized operations in the Air Force, and their elite Pararescuemen (better known as PJ’s) are among the most highly trained emergency trauma specialists in the U.S. military.
Recently, the 920th was honored for their heroic rescue of two German citizens whose vessel caught fire several hundred miles off the Atlantic coast of Florida last summer, which involved 80 unit members to pull off. For the first time in 20 years, the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service awarded the Medal of Honor on Ribbon for Rescue Missions at Sea in Gold in a special ceremony to the 920th.
For Operation Space Coast, some of the CSAR training involved four A-10s and a Pave Hawk with the 301st Rescue Squadron / 920th Rescue Wing working together to rescue a downed pilot behind enemy lines (no live ammo was used).
The A-10s also practiced aerial refueling with fellow 127th Wing aircrews flying KC-135 Stratotankers, as well as providing close air support for ground forces.
Local avgeeks monitoring radio chatter also noted the A-10s were running training ops at Avon Park Bombing Range, expending GBU-38 munitions.
“Training with the aircrew from the 301st Rescue Squadron provided outstanding training because it is hard to simulate protecting a helicopter back home,” Davenport added.
“Training with other units enhances combat search and rescue scenarios because it is more effective than simulating aerial assets,” added Maj. Rob Baker, a Pave Hawk pilot from the 301st Rescue Squadron / 920th Rescue Wing who participated in the exercises.
Both pilots said the training was a success and built stronger relations.
“The training went great, and we accomplish what we set out to,” Davenport said. “We really appreciate the support of the Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing and look forward to working with them again. We do this type of training to ensure whenever we are called to bring home our brother or sister we are ready and effective.”