Guard commander briefs chamber on group’s diverse mission

Friday, May 12, 2017 - 16:00

Commander of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Operations Group, Col. Thomas Bolin calls Eagle River home.

“We like to say — as corny as it sounds — we’re your hometown Air Force,” he said, speaking to members of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at a meeting at the Eagle River Ale House May 3.

The 176th, with more than 600 members, is based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. At Wednesday’s meeting, the colonel highlighted the vital functions of the 176th: The group includes JBER’s Rescue Coordination Center, the 176th Air Defense Squadron, the 176th Operations Support Squadron, the 210th Rescue Squadron, the 211th Rescue Squadron, the 212th Rescue Squadron and the 249th Airlift Squadron.

Units are tasked with carrying out both state and federal missions, Bolin said. State missions are assigned by the governor: Guard members respond to natural disasters, search and rescue operations and other situations. Federal missions take them to combat zones around the globe. Members of the 176th Operational Group have deployed to the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

“The Guard is kind of no longer that strategic home force,” he said. “We’re an operational guard.”

At home in Alaska, the group stays busy staying ready, Bolin said.

“If you see us out there flying or doing whatever, that’s all we’re doing – preparing for that federal mission,” he said.

The units of the 176th Operations Group fly HC-130 King aircraft, C-17 Globemaster IIIs and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters. Their primary missions are tactical and strategic airlift, air control and combat search and rescue.

“The welcome byproduct of that is we’re here for all the Alaskans, too,” Bolin said.

Through the Rescue Coordination Center, 176th group members are “asked, not tasked” to help pitch in with various rescue operations around the state, the colonel said.

During his tenure with the group, it’s completed anywhere from 50-100 saves per year, Bolin said. The group has responded to disabled vessels at sea, searched for downed planes and helped rescue injured hunters and hikers.

In Alaska, the 176th Operational Group – along with the U.S. Coast Guard – are often the last-ditch solutions to search and rescue operations that go beyond the capabilities of the Alaska State Troopers or other local agencies, Bolin said.

“We are sitting alert, if you will, which means we’re here 365 and 24/7,” he said.

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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