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May 6, 2009 12:31 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Busy year at 106th

May 6, 2009 12:31 PM

It has a been a busy year for the personnel of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, according to Colonel Michael F. Canders, the unit’s commander, who delivered the third annual State of the Base address at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton on Thursday, April 30.

And it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon.

The Rescue Wing, which operates under the umbrella of the U.S. Air Force, regularly juggles its primary domestic mission, search and rescue—whether it be for a downed pilot behind enemy lines or a stranded boater caught in a storm at sea—with deployments to combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Col. Canders said. With 611 saves under its belt, the colonel said the unit is ready to respond to any conflict abroad, a terrorist attack, natural disaster or to any individual in need of rescue.

“We’re also paying attention to the swine flu,” Col. Canders said, adding the unit has the capability to fly in supplies, such as inoculations, in the event of a pandemic.

This year’s address was the third annual State of the Base, a presentation meant to spread the word about the unit’s activities and the importance of keeping it based in Westhampton.

The colonel delivered the first State of the Base in 2007 in the wake of a series of base closings that nearly grounded the 106th permanently. A 2005 review conducted by the Pentagon, known as Base Realignment and Closure, was a fat-trimming measure aimed at evaluating domestic military bases throughout the country and it almost shuttered the 106th. Since then, Col. Canders and the Rescue Wing community have been trying to reinforce the crucial role the 106th plays both at home and abroad.

As Col. Canders pointed out, another Pentagon review is sure to come around again and he wants to make sure that the base continues to survive.

Local officials, including New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Suffolk County Commissioner of Economic Development and Workforce Housing Patrick Heaney and Southampton Town Board members Anna Throne-Holst, Sally Pope and Chris Nuzzi gathered in the base’s auditorium to listen to the commander’s address, which was preceded by a recruitment video highlighting the unit’s capabilities.

“They are an obvious asset to the community, Not only pertaining to defense, but also to our economy,” said Mr. Nuzzi, an advisory member for the Friends of the 106th, a local community group dedicated to supporting the unit.

During the address, Col. Canders said he was excited about the groundbreaking for the new $14.5 million pararescue training and storage facility at the base, which was held on Saturday. The 38,000-square-foot training center will be used by the Guardian Angel Squadron, the members of which jump out of planes and helicopters to rescue survivors. Currently, the ANG’s pararescuemen work out of three different buildings on the Westhampton base. The new facility will allow them to have centralized operations, according to ANG officials. It is expected to be completed by the summer of 2010.

The unit also backs up Space Shuttle launches. The crew stands at the ready to rescue astronauts in the event they have to bail out of the shuttle and the unit’s 9,000-foot runway serves as a possible backup landing site for the spacecraft. On Monday, May 11, the unit will conduct its 100th shuttle mission. Ms. Throne Holst, who said she is flying down to Florida to view the launch, praised the men and women of the 106th.

“They are invaluable,” she said. “We need to remain committed to keeping them here. We need them. Not only does the town need them, so does the state and the country. The 106th is one of the gems of this community.”

Col. Canders said the 106th is prepared to answer any call.

“We’re ready to go tonight if necessary,” the colonel said.

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