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Trained and Stationed Locally to Serve Globally

  • Published
  • By SSgt Kim Ramirez and A1C Brian Jarvis
  • 129th Rescue Wing
For Master Sgt. Randall Johnson, there is no better work-life balance than being a part of the California Air National Guard.

Johnson, a loadmaster with the 129th Rescue Wing since 2008, is the consummate citizen-airman.  During the week he works as a Senior Training Assessment Counselor with the Oakland Military Institute.  But rather than settle for being a weekend warrior, he works extra days to ensure that he can take part in training exercises--such as the Soaring Angel personnel recovery exercise held Oct. 2 to 5, 2014 here at Moffett Federal Airfield.

"It's a fantastic opportunity, but there's a lot that has to get done," said Johnson.  "It's a challenge for the full-timers to provide us the training we need.  So to have four days for Soaring Angel this year was just fantastic."

Often for crew members, the greatest challenge is maintaining their currencies.  A crew member assigned to an MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, for example, must fly once every 60 days.  Otherwise, on day 61 an instructor must fly with the airman to ensure competency.  Exercises like Soaring Angel provide airmen with a chance to test their combat capabilities--from mission planning to execution to personnel recovery. 

"We all play a role at one time or another in helping each other," said Johnson.  "It not simply a matter of confidence in each other or in the aircraft, but everybody else that supports what's being done, whether it's life support, intelligence personnel, or others running out and grabbing us sandwiches before we go."

During the exercise, multiple crews fly both night and day and typically with different missions that force them to remain flexible, think outside the box, and test their capability to adjust to the unknowns.  Randall notes that missions can quickly change from rescuing 10 passengers and their gear to 19 passengers and all of their extra gear, doubling both the load and the logistics that need to be calculated on the fly.

"On the ground we are working feverishly to get it done, so as not put the rest of the aircrew in a perilous situation," said Johnson.  "It's great because it enhances our teamwork not just amongst the crew, but also our passengers who are using us to get in and out of places."

Having deployed five times to: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Rwanda and Sudan, and twice to Djibouti--Randall acknowledges that simulating a deployment at home and operating in a real-life hostile environment can be different beasts.  Still, he says that in both scenarios the tasks are real and as for Soaring Angel testing the sense of a unit's capabilities, it's absolutely real.

"The overall mission of the 129th is probably the greatest mission I think you could have in the world: Go out and pull people out of harm's way.  Our job is to save people's lives, and it's something we do not just in combat, but also for civilian search and rescue," said Johnson.  "It still makes my mom nervous when I deploy, but the kids love it and they enjoy it when they get to be a part of what I do."