“Sandy”

A-10 combat rescue mission

A-10 pilots play an important role in the rescue of downed pilots. When a rescue mission is planned and an A-10 is in that area of operations, the pilots take on the callsign “Sandy.”

The combat search and rescue efforts involve many different moving pieces, from the helicopters that land to rescue the crew to the tanker aircraft standing-by to deliver much needed fuel for rescue assets.

The A-10 Sandy pilot is trained in search procedures, authentication techniques, and helicopter support tactics. The lead Sandy is normally the on-scene commander for the mission. The Sandys can “protect helicopters from ground threats, assist helicopters in locating and authenticating the survivor, determine the threat level in the survivor’s area, and locate lower threat areas where the helicopter can hold and ingress,” according to Air Combat Command.

One of the most memorable rescue missions in 81st history was the rescue of Lt. Col. Dale Zelko, who was shot down over Serbia in his F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft. Capts. John Cherrey and John O’Brien, both from the 81st Fighter Squadron, were the first A-10s on scene and were critical to Zelko’s rescue from deep within enemy territory.

Read about Zelko’s thrilling rescue here.

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