RAF Lakenheath squadron returns after nine months away

Some 60 squadron members have returned to RAF Lakenheath following back-to-back deployments which left them away from home for nine months.

The airmen, all from the 56th Rescue Squadron, began with a three-month stretch in Afghanistan where they provided medical evacuation capabilities to NATO forces involved in the war in Afghanistan, known by America as Operation Enduring Freedom.

Just eight days after their return they deployed again for six months where they conducted personnel recovery operations in support of the war in Libya in Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector.

It was during the second deployment the unit embarked aboard the USS Ponce and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy HMS Ocean.

Colonel John Quintas, 48th Fighter Wing commander at RAF Lakenheath, said: “This really highlights the responsiveness, flexibility and versatility of the RAF Lakenheath rescue squadron.

“In OEF they conducted med-evac operations in hazardous terrain and under hostile fire, saving the lives of 76 coalition partners.

“Just one week after returning, before we even had time to unpack, we were asked if we could be ready to conduct combat search and rescue in a completely different theatre.

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“Without hesitation the men and women responded and deployed again within days. The results have been phenomenal - 166 days of uninterrupted alert status. I simply couldn’t be prouder.”

The unit’s success was attributed to the teamwork between the operators and the maintainers of the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

“The fact that we were able to sustain a continuous two-ship alert posture with just three aircraft is a result of superior maintainers,” Col Quintas added. “Not only did they transition from an environment of blowing dust to blowing salt water, they operated for the first time ever aboard naval ships for extended periods of time and the result was a greater than 90pc mission capable rate.

“This is indicative of the quality airmen we have in the Liberty Wing and the great things they accomplish regularly. I cannot praise them enough.”

Royal Navy Captain Andrew Betton, HMS Ocean commanding officer, said mutual support between the Royal Navy and American air force played a large part in the deployment.

“Their integration into the Ship and Air Group was never going to be easy (due to) the truncated timeline given for their deployment and the distances involved,” he said.

“Despite those challenges, they achieved this and more, demonstrating flexibility and initiative to deliver this essential capability to theatre.”

The mutual support between the Royal Navy and the 56th RQS played a direct role in mission success.

“The effort and planning to embark the aircraft detachment on three different occasions was significant.

“In doing so, it afforded HMS Ocean, with its embarked attack helicopters, the flexibility to manoeuvre around the joint-operations area and thus directly contributed to operational success.”