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2021 busiest year on record for AFRCC

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matt “Muddy” Mustain, AFRCC commander
  • First Air Force

Did you know that there is a unit right here at Tyndall Air Force Base whose mission is to serve you, your friends, and family? Here at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), our mission is to serve the American people and anyone from any part of the world that may find themselves in need of rescue in our area of responsibility.  The AFRCC operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to provide federal assistance to civil search and rescue services in the continental United States.

For AFRCC, 2021 was the busiest year on record. During the year, the AFRCC team investigated 11,322 potential incidents nationwide, launched 639 rescue missions and helped save the lives of 357 people. Those 357 included mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and best friends.  Rescued were citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China and others. About one life saved, every single day.

It’s a big job, and we’re proud to do it.  The best thing about my job is the opportunity to share our story and tell you about the great things my Airmen are doing day in and day out to ensure the safety of just about everyone you’ve ever met.

Let’s take a look---

What we do-  

Per our official Air Force instruction : The AFRCC supports domestic civil authorities by coordinating federal civil search and rescue (SAR) services to the fullest extent practical on a non-interference basis with primary duties of the requested unit.

What does that mean?

Well, the best way to think of the AFRCC is as a kind of a 911 call center. When you have an urgent need, you call 911 for help from First Responders, fire department, Police, etc. When a State or County has a Search and Rescue need that might exceed their local capabilities they call the AFRCC for assistance. We take that request and try to match it with the closest, most capable Federal asset and see if they can help with the mission. This support can take a variety of forms, everything from an Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter to hoist a hiker off a cliff, to the Civil Air Patrol’s Cell Phone Forensics team using a cell-phone signal to locate a small plane that has crashed deep in the woods.

We work closely with every branch of the U.S. Military, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the FAA, Civil Air Patrol and others to provide the absolute best Search and Rescue (SAR) asset available for the mission. Check back with that official instruction above; the second half of that statement, the non-interference part, essentially means that any unit we ask to help is doing so fully on a volunteer basis. The AFRCC does not have the authority to task anyone with a mission, only ask if they can help.  I can tell you that the response is almost always a resounding “Yes!” and we have the privilege of working with so many outstanding men and women across the nation, folks who drop everything when we call, to go do the mission.

Who we are-

This is my favorite part, our people! We are a truly Total Force unit with Active Duty Air Force, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Government Civilians and Contractors serving proudly. Like any military unit, our service members hail from big cities and small towns in every corner of the country. Our civilians have all served in uniform themselves, and we boast veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Depending on the time of year, a duty shift for a SAR Controller is 8-12 hours and there are between 2 and 6 Controllers on duty at any given time. Summer days are the busiest, as America heads out to play, and winter nights tend to be the slowest.  The Senior Controller position is the quarterback of the AFRCC Operations Floor and a 25-year old Staff Sergeant may be directing operations with a room full of controllers that outrank them! Once we are on duty, proficiency and expertise are much more important than rank or position—a truly unique military unit that requires impeccable professionalism.  It’s a challenge that our Airmen meet and exceed every day.

Why we do it-

We do it for you and your loved ones—and ours. The job is not easy. It is taxing. It never stops. There are no holidays, and no weekends. It can be emotionally devastating when a search mission that we’ve been working for days leads to a victim that has succumbed to their injuries or the elements. The boredom on a long night shift when the phone hasn’t rung for hours can dull the senses and make time stand still.  Taking a good look at our own mental health and that of our wingman is a crucial. Resiliency and a sound state of mind are not buzzwords for annual training, they are vital for us to do our job. Despite these challenges, you’ll hear our people say this is easily one of the most rewarding assignments they’ve had in their career.  Our controllers never have to leave base for the day and wonder if they’ve made a difference.  The knowledge that your actions helped save the lives of your fellow citizens, no matter where they live and what the situation is incredible.  We were called upon, and we answered. Nothing could be better. 

I hope after reading this, you’re as proud of this team as I am. The AFRCC belongs to you, these great Americans serve you and this country every day and they are proud to do it.

Stay safe and be careful out there, but if you need us—we’ll be ready…