PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE — U.S. service members are out of Iraq and the American military offensive in Afghanistan could end as early as 2013.
But forces at Patrick Air Force Base, which have had constant deployments to Afghanistan since shortly after the war started 10 years ago, are unlikely to be affected by the reduction or the scaleback announced by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta earlier this month.
According to out news partners at Florida Today, the 45th Space Wing has about 100 airmen serving at different locations around the world, including in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war in Afghanistan. The Air Force Reserve 920th Rescue Wing also has about 100 deployed, but those numbers are constantly changing.
But commanders of the wings said they were not anticipating changes for their units.
"There is always a great need for combat rescue and everything else we do," said Col. Rob Ament, 920th Rescue Wing vice commander. "The 920th is so vital to the U.S."
Ament said that despite the announcement of the U.S. ending its combat role in mid 2013, the 920th is expected to continue to be busy.
Even as 70 airmen from the 920th returned last week from more than four months of combat rescue work, another group from the wing was already in Afghanistan to replace them.
"The (operations) tempo is not going to slow down," said Col. Jeffrey Macrander, commander of the 920th Rescue Wing. "Where the Air Force goes, we're going to be."
The wing's primary wartime job is combat search and rescue, which involves locating and rescuing service members isolated or injured in combat. That includes pilots shot down behind enemy lines or combatants injured on the battlefield.
Headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, the 920th Rescue Wing has units in Arizona and Oregon. Airmen from the 943rd Rescue Group, part of the wing based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, also are serving in Afghanistan.
"I see the need for our organization to be very high," Ament said. "I see our organization being around for a long time."
Penetta said that American forces would step back from a combat role in Afghanistan — where about 90,000 troops are deployed — by mid 2013. All troops likely will be out by the end of 2014. Gen. Norton Schwartz also recently outlined details of the force restructuring that will reduce personnel by 9,900 and reduce the number of aircraft.
The airmen from the 920th who returned last week served as helicopter pilots and aircrew, pararescuemen, maintenance and support personnel. They used their skills and equipment to perform combat rescue and medical evacuation operations.
During this rotation, the reservists are credited with flying 726 rescue missions where they successfully saved 490 lives and assisted in saving another 458 lives.
A ‘save' refers to a situation where, without immediate intervention, a person would lose their life, a limb or eyesight.
Three years ago, about 300 airmen from the the 920th deployed to Afghanistan. They rotated airmen in and out for for 14 months.
It's the unit's fourth tour of Afghanistan since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. During deployment there in 2009, the unit was credited with more than 300 saves.
The 920th has been called for civilian rescue and humanitarian missions and must maintain its proficiency to be able to respond quickly to assist other troops.
"We will hold the high level of readiness," Ament said.