A daring rescue has earned Alaska Air National Guardsmen prestigious recognition. The Jolly Green Association awarded the 210th and 211th rescue squadrons the 2015 Rescue Mission of the Year.

The rescue happened while the guardsmen were deployed to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in 2015. Two Saudi Arabian F-15 fighter pilots went down over the Gulf of Yemen. The rescue squadrons responded and pulled the pilots from the water, alive, within hours despite near total darkness and windy, dusty conditions.

“They’d just lost their airplane. Very traumatic situation for those two pilots so anything and everything we can do to get them out of the water and get them back to base as soon as possible and that was out objective,” said HC 130 instructor pilot Cpt. Jeremy Stephens.

The HC-130 airplane, the HH-60 PAVE Hawk helicopters and the pararescuemen form what’s called a rescue triad. The guardsmen say that triad is what allows them to be successful saving lives in their missions here in Alaska and abroad.

“It really doesn’t matter who it is. Rescue is sort of in our blood and that’s just what we like to do and what we want to do and we’re just hoping for the best outcome,” said HH-60 pilot Ltc. Dave Breun.

The Guardsmen get regular real-life search and rescue experience in Alaska, something they say also helped them during deployment.

“Often details are sketchy and you haven’t pre-briefed it because people don’t plan to get into trouble and so the real world Alaska civil SAR [search and rescue] mission really does help us in the combat role as well,” said HH-60 pilot Maj. Roger Nelson.

This was the first Air Force nighttime water combat search and rescue mission since the Vietnam era. The Jolly Green Association is a group of current and former military helicopter unit crew members, focused on search and rescue missions.