Combat Search, Rescue Exercise Pacific Thunder Begins in South Korea

HH-60G Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter

Article by Air Force Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith, 51st Fighter Wing

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, Oct. 24, 2017 — One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing yesterday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

This year, the exercise is the largest it has ever been. More than 20 U.S. Air Force squadrons and nine South Korean air wings are involved, giving the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts. 

“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one-week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, and has since grown into a [Pacific Air Forces]-level exercise,” said Air Force Capt. Travis Vayda, the 25th Fighter Squadron Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.

Although the annual exercise now has a vast range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th Fighter Squadron, which operates A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, which operates HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed-wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the bodyguards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR [situation], you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”

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Photo Caption: An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepares for a combat search and rescue mission during exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith