Air National Guard, Coast Guard Base Visits Highlight JINSA in the Northwest

On June 15, 2010, a small JINSA delegation conducted JINSA’s first ever visit with the National Guard. The group traveled to Portland, Oregon to visit the Portland Air Base, home of the 142nd Fighter Wing and the 125th Special Tactics Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard. Rear Admiral Norm Saunders, USCG (Ret.), an alumnus of JINSA’s Flag and General Officers’ Trip and member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors, led the group.

The Oregon Air National Guard

On June 15, 2010, a small JINSA delegation conducted JINSA’s first ever visit with the National Guard. The group traveled to Portland, Oregon to visit the Portland Air Base, home of the 142nd Fighter Wing and the 125th Special Tactics Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard. Rear Admiral Norm Saunders, USCG (Ret.), an alumnus of JINSA’s Flag and General Officers’ Trip and member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors, led the group.

The Oregon Air National Guard

The 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard was formed just prior to World War II. Today, the Redhawks stand ready for deployment wherever they are needed, whether over U.S. soil or abroad. In addition to providing support for local emergency situations (extreme weather, search and rescue, civil disturbances), the 142nd Fighter Wing provides an air defense capability to supplement the Air Force for situations such as threats to commercial aviation, missile attacks, etc.

JINSA delegation members had a unique opportunity to have a candid briefing by Colonel Mike Stencel, commanding officer of the 142nd Fighter Wing as well as a guided tour of an F-15 fighter jet. The group received detailed information about the status of U.S. air defense capability as it relates to the Air National Guard.

Due to budget cuts, U.S. Air Defense Alert Forces have diminished since 1985 when they operated 23 stations around the perimeter of the United States. On 9/11, there were but seven active Air Defense Alert stations in the continental United States. In response to the 9/11 attacks, under Operation Noble Eagle, F-15/F-16 air stations have increased to 16. While there is no plan at present to phase out the current stations, their utility will diminish over the next decade as the number of interceptors based at each facility is reduced due to age and attrition. It is critical that latest generation fighter aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, be allocated to America’s Air Defense Alert stations.

From the 142nd Fighter Wing, the group moved to the Oregon Air National Guard’s 125th Special Tactics Squadron, commanded by Major Jake Miller, an alumnus of JINSA’s Trip to Israel for Cadets and Midshipmen. Three sergeants under Major Miller’s command who had recently returned from Iraq provided a briefing to the group. The 125th Special Tactics Squadron is part of the 720th Special Tactics Group located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, home of the Air Force Special Operations Command. Click here to read about JINSA’s visit to AFSOC

The airmen of the 125th are usually the first to deploy in order to establish air landing capability and air traffic control in a contested area. The sergeants demonstrated some of the equipment they used in their deployment, including all terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, inflatable boats, and SCUBA equipment as well as their personal gear and weapons.

Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment

On June 16, 2010, the group traveled to the west coast of Oregon and Washington State to spend a day with the men and women of the Coast Guard. In the morning, the group met with Lt. Larry Ahlin, commander of Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington, for a briefing on operations and a tour of the National Motor Lifeboat School.

Cape “D” is situated at the mouth of the Columbia River in Cape Disappointment State Park, overlooking the treacherous Columbia Bar, the 3-mile wide, 6-mile long point where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River’s fast current slams into the predominantly westerly winds and ocean swells, creating significant surface conditions. Unlike other major rivers, the current is extremely focused, as there is no river delta to dissipate it. Conditions can change from calm and serene to life-threatening waves in as little as five minutes due to changes of direction of wind and ocean swell. Winter storms often create surf up to 20 to 30 feet in height. Since 1792, approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar. The rough surf conditions and challenging weather combine to create the ideal training grounds for the Coast Guard’s Heavy Weather Coxswains and Surfmen.

Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment is home to five search and rescue vessels including the 52-foot motor lifeboat USCG 52314 Triumph, in service since 1961; two 47-foot motor lifeboats; and, two 25-foot Defender class response boats. It is the largest and oldest search and rescue station on the Northwest coast.

Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment’s mission is two fold: 1) Provide search and rescue services for commercial and recreational mariners up to 50 nautical miles out from the mouth of the Columbia River, and 2) Maintain a maritime law enforcement presence near the approaches to the Columbia River, including execution of Homeland Security missions. Annually, station crewmembers respond to 300 to 400 calls for assistance, most heavily during the summer months when recreational fishing is at its peak.

The National Motor Lifeboat School

The National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape “D” provides advanced training on the 47-foot motor lifeboats. The Columbia Bar creates the ideal surf and weather conditions for training Heavy Weather Coxswains. During their training, students are able to experience conditions for which the 47-foot and 52-foot motor lifeboats are uniquely suited. Each vessel has self-righting capability, allowing them to respond in conditions that would sink other vessels. In fact, the 47-footers are the mainstay of the coastal rescue fleet. They are self-bailing, self-righting and considered to be almost unsinkable. By 2013, there will be nearly 200 in service.

Because it is difficult to fully describe the true nature of the surf these students are subjected to, and for safety’s sake members of the JINSA delegation were not able to travel out to the Bar to witness them first hand, please take a moment to watch this brief video detailing the capabilities of these vessels and the conditions the crew experience.

During the group’s visit to the National Motor Lifeboat School, Lt. Ahlin pointed out a wall of badges, representing those who have qualified as Surfmen through further training at the National Motor Lifeboat School. Surfmen are trained are “the best of the best.” Making up the smallest operational specialty in the Coast Guard, there are only 161 “surf warriors” currently serving at 19 surf stations around the country. Their dedication to service is evident in their motto, “The book says that you’ve got to go out, but it doesn’t say a word about coming back.” The exclusive fraternity of Surfmen is comprised almost entirely of enlisted personnel. Lt. Ahlin is an exception; he received his Surfman Badge while serving at an enlisted rank and later received an officer’s commission.

Coast Guard Air Station Astoria

Following a calm ride aboard the 52-foot Triumph in Baker Bay and a visit to the Surfwatch Station, located adjacent to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, the delegation crossed the Columbia River back into Oregon to visit Coast Guard Air Station Astoria.

Air Station Astoria is home to the Coast Guard’s Advanced Helicopter Rescue School, formerly known as the Advanced Rescue Swimmer School. AHRS provides specialized training for Aviation Survival Technicians in cold water, high seas and cliff rescues. Training takes place in the fall and spring each year, and is the only training that is occasionally canceled because of good weather. The unique, rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions represent the worst the ocean has to offer. Training here creates a confidence in the rescue teams that they can handle any conditions, from sunny South Florida to an Arctic hurricane in the Bering Sea.

In addition to traditional water rescues, as a result of deployment of local resources to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Coast Guard’s rescue training has expanded to include land rescues. Oregon’s mountainous landscape is a large draw for outdoor enthusiasts each year, which brings with it the risk of hiking, skiing, and off-roading accidents. While response to these emergencies usually falls to the Air Force or the National Guard, deployment to the Middle East has left those resources thin. The Coast Guard is the natural back up and commenced mountain rescue training.

The JINSA group concluded the trip at Astoria’s Tongue Point for a tour the USCGC Fir. The Fir, known as “The Bar Tender” is a 225-foot Juniper class buoy tender responsible for maintaining 150 navigational aids along the coasts of Oregon and Washington as well as along the Columbia River. In addition to its buoy tending capabilities, the Fir also has oil-skimming capabilities. One day prior to JINSA’s visit, the crew learned that they were to deploy to the Gulf of Mexico to assist in the clean up of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

– Carre Saunders is a Development Associate at JINSA who assisted in the planning of and participated in the visit to Washington and Oregon.