The US Air Force held a ceremony to mark the departure of the 56th Rescue Squadron (RQS) from RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, yesterday, May 15.
Relocation of the 56th and 57th RQS to Aviano Air Base, Italy, is now nearly complete. The move was first announced in November 2015.
According to a USAF press release, the relocation to Aviano AB “will provide strategic combat search and rescue capabilities to the European and Africa theatres of operations and provide unique training opportunities for the units with partners and allies in the region.”
The first UK-based HH-60G Pave Hawk was transferred from Lakenheath to its new home last month. The helicopter, 91-26353 ‘LN’ from the 56th RQS, arrived at the Italian base on April 6. The transfer left four 56th RQS Pave Hawks remaining at the Suffolk base – 89-26205 ‘LN’, 89-26206 ‘LN’, 89-26208 ‘LN’ and 89-26212 ‘LN’.
The two squadrons have since gradually transitioned around 350 personnel and five HH-60G Pave Hawks to their new duty station.
“As the commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, I am extraordinarily proud to have served with the men and women of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons,” said Col Evan Pettus, commander of Lakenheath’s resident 48th Fighter Wing. “Our rescue airmen personify values our nation holds dear and all service members strive to emulate. During their time here, they have been directly responsible for saving countless lives as well as drawing us closer to our allies through co-operation, training and shared ideals.”
“This marks the end of an era for the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons,” added Lt Col Leslie Semrau, 56th RQS commander. “But no matter where we’re located, we remain ready to deliver combat search and rescue capabilities wherever and whenever they’re needed.”
The 56th RQS, whose heritage dates back to the early years of the Vietnam War, relocated to RAF Lakenheath in June 2006 from Keflavík, Iceland. Since then, the squadron has been responsible for approximately 600 saves and assists in support of operations during its 12-year stay in the UK.
The 57th RQS was established at RAF Lakenheath in March 2015. It traces its roots back to 1952 when the unit originally activated as the 57th Air Rescue Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores.
“We’re sad to be leaving but are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done while located at RAF Lakenheath and are excited about the squadrons’ new home in Italy,” said Maj Seth Davis, 57th RQS commander.
Completion of the relocation is projected for the end of June. Pararescue airmen from the 57th RQS conducted one final jump over Lakenheath from a 56th RQS HH-60G on April 20.