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We’ll miss you! Sadness as squadrons bid emotional final farewell to RAF Lakenheath

PUBLISHED: 15:11 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 09:15 16 May 2018

The last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath for the last time. Picture: Ian Burt

The last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath for the last time. Picture: Ian Burt

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The launch of a military Pave Hawk helicopter into the skies is always a stunning sight to behold.

The last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian BurtThe last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

But this take-off was tinged with a mixture of sadness and pride, as it marked the end of two US military squadrons’ incredible service and popular presence on Suffolk soil.

The 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons at RAF Lakenheath have been widely acknowledged to have been a great credit to region during their time here.

But all good things must come to an end - and the two squadrons are relocating to Aviano Air Base, Italy, because of its more strategic and economically suited location.

With customary military precision, airmen 350 personnel and five HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters have been gradually moved to their new station in stages over the past several months.

The last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath for the last time. Picture: Ian BurtThe last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath for the last time. Picture: Ian Burt

But now a farewell service at RAF Lakenheath has marked the near completion of the move, announced in November 2015 - and proved an emotional occasion for all present.

Lt Col Leslie Semrau, 56th Rescue Squadron commander, said: “I’ll miss the community here.

“Since the moment I got here it’s been a very welcoming environment. I got to live nearby, between RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, and enjoyed the experience.

“I love seeing the UK traffic overhead and I love the opportunities we had for integration with our UK partners.”

The crowd and photographers watching the last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian BurtThe crowd and photographers watching the last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

She said their leaving marks the “end of an era” but that the relocation is a “fantastic opportunity”.

She added: “We absolutely love flying in the UK and training with our partners locally, but we’re also looking forward to the opportunity to get to Aviano Air Base and train with our partners in that region as well.

“We are always prepared to deploy in response to our nation and Allies’ needs worldwide. 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.

“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.”

An airmen waits for the last Pave Hawk helicopters to leave RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt An airmen waits for the last Pave Hawk helicopters to leave RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

Major Seth Davis, commander of 57th Rescue Squadron: “We’re sad to be leaving but are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done while located at RAF Lakenheath and are excited about the squadrons’ new home in Italy.

“The relocation to Aviano Air Base provides us a strategic location to respond to deployment taskings across the US European and US Africa commands.”

Col Evan Pettus, commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, said: “I am extraordinarily proud to have served with the men and women of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons.

“Our rescue airmen personify values our nation holds dear and all service members strive to emulate.

The last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian BurtThe last Pave Hawk helicopters and airmen leaving RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

“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.”

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