PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Thirty-three 920th Rescue Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen were recently honored with the 2017 Jolly Green Association Rescue Mission of the Year award for their actions July 7, 2017 in saving two German sailors stranded in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 500 miles off the coast of Florida.
The unique and intricate mission, which involved more than 30 hours of collective flying between the unit’s HH-60 Pave Hawks and HC-130N Kings, eight air refuelings transferring 16,600 pounds of fuel, a precisely executed open-ocean rescue insertion, and a highly technical nighttime shipboard patient exfil resulting in two lives saved, led to it being deemed the most significant rescue mission of the year.
“Please extend my congratulations to the crews of Air Force Rescue 05/06/235/237 and the associated Guardian Angel teams,” wrote Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, in a congratulatory letter. “My heartfelt thanks goes out to the warriors who live by the motto, ‘These things we do, that others may live.’ I am especially proud of the teamwork displayed by multiple aircrews and Guardian Angel teams in performing the most outstanding U.S. Air Force rescue mission in 2017.”
Guardian Angel teams are comprised of combat rescue officers; pararescuemen; survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) specialists and uniquely trained support personnel dedicated to the Air Force core function of personnel recovery.
The specific capability of the 920th Rescue Wing’s Guardian Angel Airmen, combined with its air refueling and extended-range airpower make it uniquely able to accomplish the mission where few others in the world can. It is the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s sole combat-search-and-rescue wing.
This is why the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventh District in Miami immediately directed the call for help to Col. Kurt Matthews, 920th RQW commander, via the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, July 7, 2017.
“This was an extremely complex and unusual mission,” said Matthews. “The lengths our Reserve Citizen Airmen went through to save these men is incredible and I am extremely proud of them.”
Matthews noted the unit was not facing the most ideal circumstances when they received the call for help that morning. The two HC-130s required to transport the Guardian Angel team and refuel the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were broken and the helicopter crews were on crew rest.
However, the team pulled together and within two hours the maintenance crews fixed and launched the first HC-130 carrying the Guardian Angel team and their equipment. Two hours later, the helicopters were headed to the scene, while the maintenance crews worked on the second HC-130.
Around this same time, the Guardian Angel team parachuted into the ocean out of the back of the HC-130, followed by their Zodiac inflatable boat and medical equipment. After reaching the survivors, they provided urgent medical care and transported them to a nearby freighter whose crew volunteered to help. Under the cover of darkness, the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter teams arrived and their crews hoisted the men into the aircraft bound for the Orlando Regional Medical Center. The survivors spent roughly two weeks in the hospital before returning to Germany.
The survivors reunited with some of their rescuers Jan. 26, 2018, when the Airmen traveled to Hamburg, Germany, to receive the German Medal of Honor on Ribbon for Rescue Missions at Sea in Gold on behalf of the wing. It was the first time in 20 years that the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service had bestowed the honor upon an organization.
The son, who had sustained second and third-degree burns to much of his lower body thanked his rescuers publically at the ceremony.
“I would like to express my heartfelt thank you to my Guardian Angels for rescuing me,” said Karl Meer Jr. “With my injuries and without water, I don't think I would have lived another day.”
Chief Master Sgt. Randolph Wells, 301st Rescue Squadron chief enlisted manager, who assembled the wing’s nomination for the Jolly Green award, was one of the aviators assisting in the rescue that day on an HH-60 Pave Hawk and who traveled to Germany to receive the Medal of Honor and meet the Meers.
“I was lucky to be crew rested that day and glad to participate along with 32 other professionals who took to the air in a very memorable rescue that bridged German-American relations and solidified our noble mission,” he said. “This award recognizes the hard work, dedication and compassion all rescue professionals have for their craft.”
The Reserve Citizen Airmen who flew on the July 7, 2017 mission include:
Lt. Col. Steven Lawhun, 39th Rescue Squadron
Lt. Col. John Lowe, 39th RQS
Lt. Col. Wilfred Rodriguez, 39th RQS
Lt. Col. Roderick Stout, 301st RQS
Lt. Col. Michael Stuker, 301st RQS
Maj. Cody Atchison, 308th RQS
Maj. Paul Carpenter, 301st RQS
Maj. Christopher Ferrara, 39th RQS
Maj. Jayson Goetz, 301st RQS
Maj. Richard Moore, 39th RQS
Maj. Richard Verica, 39th RQS
Capt. Kenneth Creager, 39th RQS
Capt. Daniel Morgese, 39th RQS
Chief Master Sgt. Shane Smith, 920th Operations Group
Chief Master Sgt. Randolph Wells, 301st RQS
Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Lais, 308th RQS
Senior Master Sgt. Frank Mora Matos, 301st RQS
Master Sgt. Mark Borosch, Air Force Reserve Command
Master Sgt. Louis Hause, 308th RQS
Master Sgt. Isabelle Kliergraham, 920th Rescue Wing
Master Sgt. Jason Kornhauser, 301st RQS
Master Sgt. Robert Kurzen, 39th RQS
Master Sgt. Paul Mollura, 39th RQS
Master Sgt. Kenneth Pizer, 39th RQS
Master Sgt. William Posch, 308th RQS
Master Sgt. Mark Victor, 39th RQS
Master Sgt. Darrell Williams, 308th RQS
Tech. Sgt. Richard Boyd, 308th RQS
Tech. Sgt. Patrick Englishby, 39th RQS
Tech. Sgt. Eric Fowler, 301st RQS
Tech. Sgt. James Reynolds, 39th RQS
Staff Sgt. Christopher Moore, 308th RQS
Staff Sgt. Lee Von Hack-Prestinary, 308th RQS
A half dozen will represent the group May 5 and travel to the Florida panhandle to accept the award at the Jolly Green Association Reunion.
The Jolly Green Association is a non-profit U.S. Air Force veterans’ organization established in 1969. It consists of Air Force veterans, retirees and active duty members from throughout the U.S. Air Force combat search and rescue and special operations forces communities. Members must currently be flying or have flown as a crewmember (officer or enlisted) in a Jolly Green unit or a helicopter unit with a primary or secondary mission of rescue according to its website. The term “Jolly Green Giant” was the nickname of the HH-3E Sikorsky helicopter, and its successor the HH-53 “Super Jolly Green Giant,” flown to rescue downed Airmen in Southeast Asia.