Arizona Guard Soldiers recognized for Sedona rescue mission

Soldiers with the Arizona Army National Guard 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion recognized three of their fellow service members May 1 for rescuing stranded hikers and a local rescue team in January.

Brig. Gen. Kerry L. Muehlenbeck, Arizona adjutant general, presented the crew with awards for their bravery and professionalism at a ceremony at Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix.

“It’s simple for me: You put the right people in the right places and you let them do their job. You let them do what they are trained to do,” said Muehlenbeck. “You’re doing this in addition to COVID, and now we’re bringing on troops to state active duty to help with our southern Arizona law enforcement partners. And I think this is the beauty. If we put people in the right places, you get it done. If you put people first, the mission follows.”

There was a small window of time to complete the mission once law enforcement called on the National Guard for help. Even with inclement weather and last-minute adjustments, the mission was successful.

“What really got to me is when Staff Sgt. Evans lifted the first person and I heard the crew chief in the back say, ‘Hey! We have our first patient secured.’ That’s when it really kicked in for me, that sigh of relief that we were able to actually pull them out,” said Maj. Shannon Lancaster, one of the pilots. “It was my first real-world mission of pulling people to safety, but I’ve done a ton of training for this. That’s why we’re in the Guard; it’s what we train for. We’re Citizen-Soldiers and we’re here for the community. There’s nothing that compares to it.”

“The National Guard has the unique ability to repurpose combat skills in support of civilian lifesaving operations,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Kafton, 98th Troop Command Brigade sergeant major.

For more than a year, the Arizona National Guard has supported the state and nation by helping to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires.

“It’s not just ‘be ready if it comes.’ We’ve been actively engaged in performing our missions both in civilian operations and wartime operations and our training missions at the same time,” said Kafton. “It’s a very proud and encouraging feeling to be part of this organization.”

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