33rd RQS Return Home After Japan Earthquake
Members of the USAF 33rd Rescue Squadron were welcomed home after spending nearly a month supporting relief efforts in mainland Japan
US Air Force, April 06, 2011 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan by Senior Airman Sara Csurilla
18th Wing Public Affairs - Members of the 33rd Rescue Squadron were welcomed home April 4 after spending nearly a month supporting relief efforts in mainland Japan.
Five aircraft and five teams from the combat-ready HH-60G Pave Hawk squadron returned to Kadena after deploying to Yokota Air Base, Japan only one day after a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck, resulting in crumbled cities, a tsunami ravaged coastline and a damaged nuclear power plant.
Initially, the 33rd RQS's mission was search and rescue. After saving a Japanese citizen with a broken femur, other flights proved unsuccessful and their mission shifted to Humanitarian Aid Disaster Relief.
"The 33rd RQS was tasked through U.S. Forces Japan to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development in helping to provide aid and support throughout the region's most affected by the tsunami," said Capt. Joseph Andresky, an HH-60 pilot with the 33rd RQS. "Concurrently the 33rd RQS was tasked to fly Department of Energy experts to try to determine the severity of the radiation leak from the Fukashima Diachi plant, and track the cloud of radioactive particles that were released."
Although Airmen from the 33rd RQS were faced with challenges along the way, they overcame difficult situations until their mission was complete.
"The mission was very different from the practiced skill-sets of the 33rd RQS, that of Combat Search and Recovery as well as medical evacuation in a wartime/combat environment," Captain Andresky explained. "That being said, every crew member and support individual adapted incredibly well to the demanding and challenging environment that the tsunami created. It was a successful mission, although it was very difficult for many of the individuals after seeing the devastation first hand."
The 33rd RQS, also known as the "Jolly green Giants," provided more than half of the U.S. Air Forces assets in mainland Japan to Support Operation Tomodachi, but they did not work alone.
"We worked in concert with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and used many of their landing zones and military facilities that were set up to support helicopter operations," Captain Andresky said. "The JGSDF was very self sufficient in their relief operations and provided a significant relief effort without the help of the U.S."
"Working with the Japanese counterparts was nearly seamless in every way," the pilot continued. "We were constantly amazed at the resourcefulness of the Japanese culture, and the speed in which the JGSDF was able to respond to emergencies."
After a month of flying between makeshift landing zones, providing supplies to the homeless, hungry and distressed and witnessing the incredible destruction of the tsunami, Airmen from the 33rd RQS said they were happy to be back but were glad they were able to help in any way, definitely to such a grateful nation of people.
"Many of the individuals that were sent in support of Operation Tomodachi were amazed at how thankful the Japanese were," added Captain Andresky. "From every stop where the helicopters landed to get gas, to any chance meeting of locals, the Japanese were incredibly thankful for the aid that the US and the 33rd RQS provided. It made us feel very honored and proud, especially as we attempt to live up to the Jolly Green motto of 'these things we do...so that others may live.'"
Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 91-26403 ( US Air Force )
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33 RQS 33d Rescue Squadron US Air Force