AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- The Air Force is moving its search-and-rescue air operations from England to Italy, positioning them closer to potential trouble spots in eastern Europe and Africa.
"The relocation of our rescue airmen places them in a more strategic location to respond across Africa, Europe and Southwest Asia," Gen. Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander, said in a news release issued Friday.
The move is expected to bring about 350 additional airmen and family members to Aviano. Five HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters would make the move.
Aviano, home to the 31st Fighter Wing and a few dozen F-16 Fighting Falcons, does not currently have any helicopters, though some Army helicopters have called the base home in the past.
Earlier this year, officials announced the planned relocation of the 606th Air Control Squadron from Spangdahlem, Germany, to Aviano, which is expected to bring about 300 more airmen and their families. There are currently about 4,200 active-duty personnel attached to the base with 3,000 dependents, as well as roughly 300 U.S. civilians and 600 Italian employees.
Lakenheath itself will be seeing a shift in its population and missions as it absorbs various elements from nearby RAF Mildenhall, which has been scheduled for closure.
"It has been a truly rewarding experience living and training in the U.K. The support and fellowship we have been shown during our time here will always be a special memory," Lt. Col. Bernard Smith, 56th Rescue Squadron commander, said in a news release issued by the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath.
Lt. Col. Jose Cabrera, 57th Rescue Squadron commander, said moving to Italy would mean "we're better postured to provide rescue capabilities quickly and effectively.
"While we'll miss the great support and hospitality we've experienced in England, we certainly look forward to forging new relationships and conducting training operations in Italy," Cabrera said.
New construction will be needed to accommodate the squadrons and could take several years.
"We are thrilled with this decision and believe our location is ideal for our rescue airmen to provide world-class combat support for our combatant commands," Col. Craig Hollis, 31st Operations Group commander, said in a wing release. "This relocation to Aviano will enhance training opportunities for our aircrews and pararescuemen and enable them to respond more quickly to emerging operational requirements."