56th Rescue Squadron [56th RQS]
The mission of the 56th Rescue Squadron is to provide North Atlantic Theater rescue, combat rescue and reaction force response services for the 85th Group, the NATO base and the Government of Iceland.
To complete this mission, the 56 RQS uses HH-60G "Pavehawk" helicopters; the only permanently based US Air Force aircraft in Iceland.
Although Iceland has had some form of rescue operations, there were no continuous units assigned or attached until Detachment 14 of the 39th Air Rescue and Recovery Wing arrived on 1 November 1971. On 8 November 1971, three Sikorsky HH-3Es, Jolly Green Giants arrived on NAS Keflavik to become a permanent fixture. The unit's first mission took place on 16 November 1971 when the Icelandic Lifesaving Association requested the airlift of a nine-year old boy suffering from epileptic seizures. Detachment 14 was credited with 236 saves and hundreds of assists.
The 56th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron activated on May 1, 1988, on NAS Keflavik, Iceland, assigned to the 39th Special Operations Wing, Eglin AFB, Florida. On 1 April 1989, it was reassigned to the 41st Rescue and Weather Reconnaissance Wing, McClellan AFB, CA. Redesignated as the 56th Air Rescue Squadron on 1 June 1989 and then reassigned to the Air Rescue Service on 1 August 1989. On February 1, 1993, the 56th Rescue Squadron (56RQS) was redesignated and assigned under the Air Forces Iceland, under Air Combat Command. On July 1, 1995, it was reassigned to the 85th Group.
Helicopter crews, tanker crews, maintenance and operations crews are on alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Aircrews train constantly in the latest rescue procedures. In 1992, the 56th RQS was the only unit to convert from the HH-3, Jolly Green Giant, to the HH-60G, PaveHawk, and maintain a continuous SAR alert status. The transition began in the fall of 1991, and the HH-60G assumed alert duties on 14 February 1992 and have maintained those duties ever since. The HH-60G has enhanced avionics, greater range and speed, and improved all weather capabilities. The Forward Looking Infa-Red (FLIR) has recently been added to further enhance the rescue capabilities of this aircraft.
Icelanders in every part of the land of Fire and Ice have been assisted by the aircraft of Air Rescue and virtually all Icelanders are aware of at least one rescue effort. The 56th RQS is a three time recipient of the Jolly Green Association Mission of the Year Award. Because of the illustrious history of saving lives in and around Iceland, the 56th RQS was the first non-Icelandic organization to be recognized for its' outstanding rescue efforts by the Icelandic Seaman's Day Committee on 11 Jun 1995.
Rescue units in Iceland have provided assistance to citizens of over 20 countries to include the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Iceland.
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