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“These things we do… that others may live.”

UPDATED some more…

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US Air Force Special Operations Command’s pararescuemen, also known as PJs, are the only DoD speciality specifically trained and equipped to conduct conventional or unconventional rescue operations.  They recover personnel and administer emergency medical treatment, and deploy in any available manner — air-land-sea tactics — into restricted environments. PJs participate in search and rescue, combat search and rescue, and are among the most highly trained emergency trauma specialists in the US military.  Without them, thousands of service members and civilians would have been unnecessarily lost in past conflicts and natural disasters.

Aboard an HC 130 fueling tanker, we made several passes over Kennedy Space Center's launch complex where Space Shuttle Atlantis sat perched on the pad while undergoing preparation for her final mission, set to blast off July 8th.

It was an amazing day spent as a guest of the best in the business — the extraordinary Iron Medical Men of the US Air Force’s 920th Rescue Wing, headquartered at Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach, FL.  A very special thanks to Vice Wing Commander Col. Rob Ament (a reservist who flies for a major airline three days a week), and his commanding officer Col. Robert Dunn, 920th Rescue Wing Commander, who will retire in August. (I tried to talk him into running for Congress.)  Also, our thanks to SSgt Leslie Forshaw and Capt. Cathleen Snow of the 920th Public Affairs office who organized the day’s events and provided gracious hospitality.

The 920th Rescue PJs rescued Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell from the desolate peaks of Afghanistan, The Lone Survivor of Operation Redwing which led to the largest loss of life in Navy SEAL history.  PJs serve our country in a Reserve capacity and their training and proficiency make them the ones who are called for help when our special forces, NATO and Coalition troops, and everyday Americans find themselves in life or death situations. They not only insert themselves to extricate our troops out of  harm’s way, but also have the medical background to tend to the wounded.

Headquartered at Patrick AFB, these reservists (the Vice Commander — our host  — flies three days a week for American Airlines out of Miami) are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.  Their “go” bag is always packed!

The Wing has 1,500 personnel assigned to four groups, ten squadrons, four flights, a headquarters section and two geographically separated units — one in Arizona and one in Oregon. The Wing is equipped with five HC-130P/N tanker aircraft and 15 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters that support worldwide combat rescue operations, NASA’s space shuttle program (providing contingency ops for NASA’s astronauts should there be a ditching in the Atlantic) and the 45th Space Wing’s range-clearing mission.

About 80 of them are currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

PJer demonstrates the gear used by the USAF Reserve pararescuemen in all types of conditions and climates, from undersea to snow capped mountains.

PJs frequently serve with Navy SEALS and Army Rangers, and are trained to rescue those who are in need, offer medical assistance, and guide them to safety. They primarily render medical assistance during conflicts, especially to downed pilots in combat zones. They jump from aircraft into oceans and rugged Afghanistan mountains, sometimes wearing as much as 400+ pounds of survival gear.

Physically and mentally fit, their training begins with an intense 10-week indoctrination program at Lackland AFB, followed by three weeks at the US Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA. Then it’s on to USAF Combat Divers School for a six-week course in Panama City, FL where they learn combat diving and SCUBA skills. 

Deep Sea Diving gear covers the PJer from head to toe and includes a communication system within its mask, allowing them to communicate with their command in the air and each other underwater.

If they’ve made it that far, they go on to NAS (Navy Underwater Egress training) at Pensacola where they learn how to get out of a sinking aircraft ditched in the water, followed with two and a half weeks at the USAF Basic Survival School at Fairchild AFB in Washington state where they learn to survive in physically hostile environments.  Another five and a half weeks at Ft. Bragg, NC and the Yuma Proving Grounds in AZ where they learn to jump from high altitudes in day and night freefall jumps.

Then it’s on to Pararescue EMT-Paramedic Training, an intense 22-week course at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico, and finally, another 20 weeks at Kirtland learning how to use their paramedic skills in adverse conditions.  If they’ve made it through all that, they’re awarded the Maroon Beret of the Pararescuemen.

PJer loads up one of our group with a ruck and additional equipment. He was about to clip on a "Jaws of Life" power saw, when the female volunteer yelled "uncle"!

It doesn’t end there.  The commitment to getting in shape, maintaining that physical condition and intensely studying for nearly two years is extraordinary.  They are among the most highly trained emergency trauma specialists in the US military, enduring some of the toughest training offered.  After all that training, pararescuemen continue to serve in the Air Force Reserve. 

It’s tough stuff. I learned that of 2,000 young men who apply, only two of them will earn the Maroon Beret.  One of the PJs I met today was a finalist in the US Olympics!  To say these men are athletic is a gross understatement.  They are the fittest of the fit, and their training is unparalleled.

Folks, these guys are supermen.  US Air Force Reserve Pararescuemen — or “PJs” – whose motto is “These things we do… that others may live” lets me sleep better tonight because they’re there.

Their motto:  “These things we do… that others may live”.

For now, here’s a sneak peak at the view we were treated to — a flight aboard a 130 refueling tanker over restricted airspace at Kennedy Space Center, affording us a bird’s eye view of Shuttle Atlantis as she sits on the pad for the final time, awaiting her final mission into space, scheduled for no earlier than July 8.  Watch for a full slide show later tonight. 

Friday morning:

Today I’m heading out at O’dawn Thirty to go flying with some buds at the invitation of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach. We’re going up in either an HH 60G Pave Hawk Helo or an HC 130 P/N King for a little flight over Kennedy Space Center and environs.

Should be lots of fun.  Photos to come. Meanwhile, be sure to read the post below this one.  Important matters to consider…

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