56th RQS paints rescue wall, preserves legacy

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- The buildings that house the Liberty Wing's fighter and rescue squadrons are steeped in history.

With a walk down a hall, pictures and memorabilia depict the achievements each squadron has accomplished throughout the years.

Airmen at the 56th Rescue Squadron took their heritage one step further by painting a rescue wall in their operations building, to commemorate the squadron's feats since they were stationed at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, from 1971 to 2006, before relocating to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

"What really resonated with me as a young lieutenant was walking down the 56th [RQS] hall in Iceland and seeing all of the accomplishments of my brothers and sisters before me," said Lt. Col. Bernard Smith, 56th RQS commander. "It's a piece of our history; it's a piece of Air Force history."

Prior to demolition of the original rescue wall in Iceland, Sigurður Björgvin Magnússon, Icelandic airfield operator, posted photos of the wall to the NAS Keflavik Facebook page, which caught the attention of the 56th RQS commander.

"Those walls were covered in history," Magnússon said. "They tell the story of their time in Iceland, and that history will be lost when the walls come down."

After taking command, Smith said he wanted to bring that visual depiction of mission pride back into the squadron. He recruited 1st Lt. Andrej Pulver, 56th RQS HH-60G Pave Hawk co-pilot, to recreate the wall on RAF Lakenheath.

During the squadron's time in Iceland, their mission focus was on that of civil search and rescue, while their primary mission is now combat search and rescue, or CSAR.

"I wanted to make sure that everyone in our squadron who executes the mission everyday saw and understood what they're a part of," Pulver said. "To see all of the civil searches and rescues we've achieved alone is breathtaking."

Pulver spent more than a week painting the wall with the history of civil rescues and assists from the squadron's time based in Iceland, along with the additon of the CSAR missions in more recent history.

To locate that information, Pulver worked closely with Magnússon, to get photos of the original wall, and with Staff Sgt. Robert Blume, 56th RQS NCO in charge of intelligence, to sift through the base archives to obtain the most up-to-date combat records.

"I pretty much filtered through every deployment that we've been on since being stationed here at Lakenheath to get the numbers from the saves and assists that were ours," Blume said. "We wanted to get it done while everyone was deployed, so that they would have something of our heritage to come back to."

With the squadron scheduled to relocate yet again, this time to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in the 2017 to 2019 timeframe, the 56th RQS plans to continue the tradition of recognizing its history by painting their more than 958 saves and assists since 1971 on the walls of their future home in Italy.

"Finding out all that we've accomplished as a unit makes me excited about what we will do in the future," Pulver said. "Knowing this heritage of where we came from and how long we've been doing it is a great start to any 56th member's Air Force career."

No matter where it's located, the rescue wall serves as a reminder of past, present and future 56th RQS operations; a reflection of their rescue motto, "That others may live."