California Militia and National
Guard Unit Histories
129th Rescue Wing
In April 1955 the 129th Rescue Wing, California
Air National Guard, was activated as the 129th Air Resupply Group
and was based at Hayward Airport, California. The units
mission was airlift of personnel and material using C-46 aircraft.
Later that year, the Group was transferred from U.S. Continental
Air Command to U.S. Tactical Air Command (TAC). Although the
mission remained the same, the 129th underwent three name changes
and several aircraft conversions between its initial activation
and April 1975. The mission was unchanged even after the name
was changed to Troop Carrier Group. Upon the arrival of the SA-16
Albatross seaplane, the Wing was redesignated the 129th Air Commando
Group. The 129th later acquired the C-119 Flying Boxcars and
its named changed to Special Operations Group. During this period
the Wing also utilized small observation planes (U-10s, U-6s
and U-3s) as ancillary aircraft.
In April 1975, the 129th received a new
mission, designation, and Air Force Command. Shortly afterward,
the Wing also changed aircraft and operating base. The Wings
name became the 129th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group (ARRG),
operating under the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service of
Military Airlift Command (MAC). The flying mission was changed
to combat and civilian rescue, using HC-130 Hercules and HH-3E
Jolly Green Giant helicopters. With its expanded mission and
roles, the 129th faced an acute shortage of facilities, and in
1984 the 129 ARRG completed its programmed move to Moffett Field,
California. In October 1989, the 129 ARGG was designated as the
129th Air Rescue Group (ARG). Operations began to convert from
the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter to the HH-60G Pavehawk
helicopter, and were complete by 1991.
A HU-16 "Albatross"
of the 129th Air Rescue Group. (California Center for Military
Though the mission of search and rescue
has continued, the Group has continued to reflect reorganizations
within the USAF. In March of 1992, the name of the 129th Air
Rescue Group was shortened to simply 129th Rescue Group and in
June of 1992 it became part of the new Air Mobility Command.
In February of 1993, the 129th Rescue Wing was transferred to
Air Combat Command to reflect the Air Force-wide reorganization
of Search and Rescue Forces. On October 1, 1995 the 129th Rescue
Group was redesignated as the 129th Rescue Wing. In April 1997
Air Combat Command evaluated the 129th Rescue Wings war
capability as an overall Excellent during its Operational Readiness
The motto of the 129th Rescue Wing, "That
Others May Live", refers to the primary mission of the Wing
- to save lives. The members of the 129th have performed rescues
in a wide variety of conditions - from rough Pacific seas to
the rugged Sierra Nevada. The 129th also performed rescue coverage
rotation missions at Keflavik, Iceland and in 1990 began support
of the rescue coverage of NASAs Space Shuttle Missions.
With its combination of HC-130 tankers and HH-60 helicopters,
the 129th has often been tasked with the medical evacuation of
patients form merchant vessels at sea. More than 40 high-risk
lifesaving missions have been accomplished involving long-range,
over-water flights, air refueling of helicopters by the HC-130
aircraft, and skilled maneuvering by the vessels and helicopters
to achieve the recoveries of the patients form the decks of these
vessels. On 3 September 1991, the 129th members recovered a sailor
from the merchant ship "White Mana", which represented
the Groups 200th "save".
An HC-130 refueling
two HH-3E "Jolly Green Giants" over thern Naval Air
Station Moffett Field. (California Center for Military History)
As an Air National Guard unit, many of
the 129th mission have involved support of the Governors
office during times of State emergencies, including earthquakes,
chemical spills, fires and floods. The 129th provided aid during
floods along the Yuba river in 1959 and the Eel River in 1964-65.
During record flooding in Sonoma, Sutter, and Yuba counties in
Northern California 33 lives were saved in five days, from 18
to 22 February 1986, wit the total of 44 lives saved in 1986.
This was a record rescue year for the 129th. During the aftermath
of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the 129th established Command
Post operations and was chosen to coordinate all military aircraft
activities within the Bay Area. The 129th provided air transportation
for Sate and Federal government officials to survey damage from
the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.
The unit has also been tasked with mutual aid to state law enforcement
agencies. The 129th assisted in law enforcement during the 1965
Watts (Los Angeles) riots, and in the civil disturbance in Los
Angeles in 1992.
In 1990, the 129th began its support of
US Customs in the seizure of illegal drugs, as well as illegal
animal and plan products, during cargo inspections. The 129th
has performed a number of humanitarian missions to foreign countries.
In 1989, the 129th deployed to Jamaica to assist in the repair
of damage form Hurricane Gilbert. In 1990-191 the 129th deployed
to sites in South America to assist in the construction of hospital
and school facilities.
During Desert Shield/Storm in 1990 and
1991, the 129th deployed personnel to both the overseas and stateside
locations. Three pararescuemen volunteered for combat operations,
teams of medical personnel form the 129th Medical Squadron deployed
to England, Saudi Arabia, and Travis AFB, and individual members
of the 129th volunteered to backfill for deployed active duty
members. In July 1993, 129th members deployed to Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait to perform their jobs as part of rescue force coverage
for Southwest Asia.
The mission of the 129th Rescue Wing is
to train and be prepared to perform its wartime mission of combat
search and rescue anywhere in the world. Its personnel and aircraft
locate and recover aircrew and non-aircrew personnel from both
enemy-held and friendly territory and seas. The primary federal
mission of the 129th is to "rapidly deploy worldwide to
conduct combat search and rescue operations, over land or water,
in both hostile and permissive environments." The unit also
provides an emergency response capability to the State of California.
The 129th is tasked for civil search and
rescue support by either the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center
(RCC) at Langley AFB, Virginia; the Coast Guard RCC, or the California
State Office of Emergency Services.
As part of its rescue mission, the 129th
RQW provides rescue support in Keflavik, Iceland. The unit began
flying the Keflavik alert during Operations Desert Shield and
Desert Storm and have flown an average of 5 missions each year
since then. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm the 129th RQG
deployed to Southwest Asia and had a variety of combat and support
roles including pararescue, hospital support, services and transportation.
In the summer of 1993, the 129th RQW personnel deployed to Southwest
Asia where they flew search and rescue missions in support of
Operation Southern Watch. Since that initial deployment, the
Wing has consistently deployed personnel and equipment in support
of Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch.
The 129th Rescue Wing warriors had extremely
productive year during 1999. Aircrews flew 2,300 hours during
1,268 sorties in support of operations worldwide. The unit also
responded to state and federal emergencies, provided humanitarian
relief, and completed projects to enhance mission readiness and
combat effectiveness. By year s end, the Wing deployed and safely
recovered 250 members overseas and reached the impressive total
of 280 lives saved.
For the third year, 129th members deployed
to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey to support enforcement of the no-fly
zone in Iraq as a part of Operation Northern Watch. Twelve days
after the last group returned from Turkey, the first group of
129th members departed for Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait.
No strangers to the garden spots of Southwest Asia, the 129th
joined New York's 106th Rescue Wing in response to a Presidential
Selected Reserve Call-up. This rainbow Air National Guard expeditionary
operation was lauded for its innovation and superb overall combat
rescue mission execution.
Closer to home, civil engineering personnel
deployed to hurricane- ravaged Central America to establish an
operating base and to construct foundations for a permanent medical
clinic and school in Honduras. This humanitarian effort was welcomed
as the region slowly recovered from the included preparing wills,
and answering medical and devastation of Hurricane Mitch.
The best rescue mission of the year occurred
in October. Coordinated with the United States Coast Guard, it
would ultimately involve three vessels, three aircraft, an ambulance,
numerous crewmembers, medical personnel, maintenance specialists,
and support personnel. A civilian sailor enroute from Hawaii
to Southern California was near death from congestive heart failure.
After requesting assistance, the patient was transferred from
his sailboat to a cargo vessel and then via a Coast Guard helicopter
to a cutter. Aboard the cutter and still 600 miles offshore,
the patient s condition worsened and the urgency for critical
medical care increased. The 129th responded by launching an HH-60
rescue helicopter and a HC-130 tanker. After an enroute air an
refueling, the HH-60 met the cutter, and the patient was hoisted
aboard where 129th pararescuemen treated and stabilized him.
The patient was airlifted to Moffett Field then transported by
ambulance to Stanford Medical Center where the admitting physician
confirmed that the actions of the 129th had saved the patient
Perhaps the most unique save of the year
occurred when a 129th flight surgeon supporting Operation Deep
Freeze in Antarctica unexpectedly performed emergency heart surgery
on a permanent party physician.
Maintainers refurbished three assigned
unit aircraft during the year, completing the project on time
and under budget. Specialists from the 129th Rescue Wing continued
to demonstrate their talent, pride, and efficiency by developing
an improved night-vision-goggle compatible lighting system for
the HC-130P. The new design was benchmarked and was approved
for use through- out the Air Force.
Late in the year the 129th began a one-year
conversion program to replace the HC-130P with the MC-130P Combat
Shadow. Training is presently underway to employ and maintain
the advanced MC-130P aircraft, which will bring more rescue capability
into the California Air National Guard.
The Family Support program sponsored readi
ness fairs where activities financial questions. The Wing also
received a $14 million congressional add for construction of
a much needed composite maintanance hangar. Although the year
will be remembered for its many significant events and accomplishments,
it was also marked with a loss of a treasured member, Lieutenant
Desmond Casey, who gave his life in the line of duty as a San
Jose police officer. Desmond was an extraordinary pilot and military
officer who truly lived the rescue motto: These things we do
that others may live. Without question, the members of the 129th
Rescue Wing will continue to do a superb job in all they do and
will remain the amoung the true innovators in the dynamic mission
of combat rescue!