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CRW Airmen join efforts in Argentinian submarine search

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J.— The 621st Contingency Response Wing sent a team of Airmen to support the recovery of the missing Armada de la Republica Argentina San Juan submarine.

Nine members from the 621st Contingency Response Support Squadron and the 321st Contingency Response Squadron stationed here, assisted with the recovery mission in Comodoro Riadavia, Argentina.

The team, consisting of aerial porters and vehicle maintainers provided logistical support, along side 11 other nations, by loading and unloading 435 tons of cargo and 159 passengers. Additionally, they supported the U.S. Navy Undersea Rescue Command stationed in San Diego, California during the mission.

“[The load team] downloaded assets used for the search and rescue,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven Smith, 621st CRSS non-commissioned officer in charge of 621st CRG’s deployment execution team. “As equipment was coming in and out [of the port], the team was inspecting it and loading it onto the aircraft.”

On November 15, the ARA San Juan submarine had been traveling from Tierra del Fuego to Mar de Plata when it lost all communications and disappeared near the San Jorge Gulf in Argentina.

“We first became aware of it in the news the weekend just before Thanksgiving,” Smith said. “The team was tasked Nov. 20 around midday and within 12 hours, they had already departed for their deployment.”

According to Smith, 44 Argentinian Sailors remained on board and were expected to run out of oxygen within 10 days of their disappearance.

“Unfortunately, the search results are not what everyone was hoping for,” Smith said. “At this point, they’re just trying to recover the submarine.”

Staff Sgt. Harrison Honeycutt, 621st CRSS aerial port supervisor, stated he was initially discouraged when the mission was switched from a rescue mission to a salvage mission.

“It’s humbling,” Honeycutt said. “I’m disappointed that the sub hasn’t been found as of yet.”

Although the mission has taken on a different tone, Honeycutt appreciated the support they’ve received from the locals.

“Just walking around the town, we would get asked if we were here to help with the submarine,” Honeycutt said. “They would tell us 'thank you' and 'God bless you.' I’ve never been a part of a humanitarian mission like this before so to know they really wanted us there was a good feeling.”

According to Airman 1st Class Philip Pyykkonen, 621 CRSS aerial porter, the experience with the Argentinian military is something he will never forget.

“This is my first real-world mission,” Pyykkonen said. “I never would have imagined that I would have been helping with something of this magnitude. To be a part of a mission like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Seven Airmen have returned as of Dec. 8. The remaining two are scheduled to return before Christmas after their aircraft loader is no longer in use and they are transported by U.S. aircraft back to their home station.

The 621st Contingency Response Wing is highly-specialized in training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain, and coordinate air mobility operations. From wartime taskings to disaster relief, the 621st extends Air Mobility Command's reach in deploying people and equipment around the globe with as little as a 12 hours’ notice.