ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — When someone is lost or in distress in Alaska, often times the Alaska Air National Guard is called in to help.
The HC-130 "Hercules" aircraft is one of the many assets that can be deployed at any given time, should the Alaska Air National Guard get the call for a search and rescue mission.
It's just one component of the Air Guard's rescue triad — the HC-130 aircraft, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and the Guardian Angels, or PJs. Guardian Angels are special operations medics highly skilled in technical rescue expertise. Members are trained to perform anything from rope rescue to swift water diving and everything in between. They save civilian lives here in Alaska the same way they would if crossing enemy lines to save a fellow soldier.
Combat Rescue Officer for 212th Rescue Squadron, Major Niul Manske says rescue operations in Alaska are unlike any other battlefield challenge.
"ISIS is nothing compared to Alaska," Manske said. "Alaska doesn't retreat. Alaska doesn't quit. The missions that we have here are as complicated, as difficult, and as life threatening as they are down range."
Over the skies of Wasilla, three PJs jumped from the aircraft from about 4,500 feet for a training drill, deploying the same procedures they would in a real-world rescue scenario.
"The helicopters are on their way, but obviously the helicopters aren't as fast as an HC-130, so the aircraft is going to get there first," Manske said. "PJs are going to land on the ground, stabilize the patient, get them warm, and then the helicopters will be in and out to take them home."
In 2018 alone, the Alaska Air National Guard took part in 137 search and rescue missions, saving 80 lives in 495 flight hours.
"Going in and saving somebody's life, it's fantastic, and that's one of the cooler parts of this job," Manske said. "No matter where we go, whether it's combat search and rescue or civilian search and rescue, there's no politics involved. We're going to grab somebody and take them back to their family."