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56th RQS returns home from concurrent deployments

20th September 2011 - 07:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Approximately 60 members of the 56th Rescue Squadron returned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath today after back-to-back deployments in support of two different operations that had them away from home for more than nine months.

Their deployments began with a three-month stretch in Afghanistan where they provided high-risk medical evacuation capabilities to US and NATO forces involved in Operation Enduring Freedom. Eight days after their return, they deployed again for six months where they conducted personnel recovery operations in support of Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector.

It was during this second deployment that the unit embarked aboard the USS Ponce and the United Kingdom's Royal Navy HMS Ocean in an unprecedented display of international cooperation.

"This really highlights the responsiveness, flexibility and versatility of our Liberty rescue squadron," said Col. John Quintas, 48th Fighter Wing commander. "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 theater. 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 is the result of great 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," Quintas said. "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 90-percent
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."

That sentiment was shared by Royal Navy Capt. Andrew Betton, HMS Ocean commanding officer.

"Their integration into the Ship and Air Group was never going to be easy (due to) to the truncated timeline given for their deployment and the distances involved," said Betton. "Despite those challenges, (they) achieved this and more ... demonstrating flexibility and initiative to deliver this essential capability to theater."

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," the commanding officer said. "In doing so, it afforded HMS Ocean, with its embarked (attack helicopters), the flexibility to maneuver around the joint-operations area; and thus directly contributed to operational success."

With all the success of the 56th RQS during these deployments, the best part for the families was coming home.

"It's going to be nice to have dad back and in the routine," Sharon Ledbetter said of her husband, Tech. Sgt. Patrick Ledbetter, 56th RQS flight engineer.

"Plus," she said with a smile, "I've got a 'honey-do' list for him."

By Tech. Sgt. Chris Stagner - 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Shephard News Team


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