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June 11, 2010
That Others May LiveBy Greyhawk
("Pararescue" illustration by Tech. Sgt. Cody Vance. More USAF artwork here.)
"That Others May Live" - the motto of USAF Pararescue, the PJs. And this week, four paid the ultimate price for living up to that motto.
The helicopter was providing support to British troops at the time of the attack, according to The New York Times. The newspaper, quoting a Taliban spokesman, said insurgents shot down the helicopter over the Sangin district bazaar with a rocket-propelled grenade.The Washington Post:
A rocket-propelled grenade appears to have downed the craft, said Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, one of the top U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan, who cited the findings of a preliminary investigation.The Las Vegas Sun, on the fallen airmen:
Vis Fox, you can watch a pre-deployment video story on the 66th here.
Even as we mourn their loss, USAF Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos offers us a look at how these men lived.
Squadron Highlights Capabilities During Afghan Rescue Mission
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- A soldier is wounded during a joint British and Afghanistan national army patrol in Helmand province. Shot through both legs, his condition worsens while being cared for by the medics. It is time to call in the professionals to get him off the battlefield and to the hospital. The radios erupt with words the crews had been standing by for:
Rushing from their squadron tents and huts, located close to the flight line and their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the crews run to the waiting aircraft, strap in, fire up the engines and within minutes they are airborne on their way to the patient.
Time is of the essence and these Airmen from the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron take it very seriously.
On board the helicopter, racing back to the base, the pararescue jumpers, or PJs, work as a team, tending to the patient. One handles all injuries below the waist, while the other takes care of any concerns above. They work quickly to bandage the wound on the left leg, preventing any further blood loss and verifying no nerve damage occurred.
The goal for the crews is getting the patient from the battlefield to the nearest medical care in minimal time. If they can do that during the first hour after being wounded, the chances for survival are excellent. After that "Golden Hour," those chances diminish quickly.
"Time is always critical, so our ability to get to the patient quickly, have our PJs stabilize him, and then return the survivor to a medical facility is vital," said Capt. Stephen Homan, 66th ERQS flight surgeon. "In our world, having those faster transport and response times helps us give the wounded warriors the best chance possible, and in the end we can ultimately increase his quality of life."
Since the first of September, the squadron has been very successful in saving lives and assisting patients across Southern Afghanistan. According to 1st Lt. Caitlin Cima, 66th ERQS intelligence officer, the unit has recorded 253 saves and 580 assists while flying 620 missions, a blistering operations tempo for the crews flying out of the British-run Camp Bastion.
"Sometimes we may have five missions during a twelve-hour alert period, with 2-3 of those being 'scrambles,' or highest priority, which means someone's life is on the line," said Capt. Mark Uberuaga, 66th ERQS mission pilot.
"Needless to say, before the temperatures started to drop, we were extremely busy," he added.
The high operations tempo is mainly due to the changes in their mission.
Combat Search and Rescue, or CSAR, is the primary focus for the crews. They diligently train in penetrating deep into enemy-held territory to rescue downed fliers and have been conducting these types of missions since the Korean War in 1950.
During the Vietnam War, rescue crews recovered 4,120 personnel, including 2,780 in combat situations. Their dedication to the mission continues even today, with 470 U.S. or Allied personnel rescued since Sept. 11, 2001.
However, over time, the mission changed from simply CSAR, and now includes casualty evacuation and humanitarian disaster relief missions. Their ability to adapt to the ever-changing combat and political environment further solidifies their reputation as the ones to call when lives are on the line.
"With the exception of the last few years, AF Rescue as a whole in the deployed arena has remained niche-based with the CSAR mission focus," said Maj. Joseph Alkire, 66th ERQS detachment commander. "Although always capable of full-spectrum personnel recovery options, the last few years have seen an increase and expansion across the board in PR mission set; most notably Casualty Evacuation, or CASEVAC in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."
According to Alkire, although other assets are able to perform certain functions under the "PR umbrella," the Air Force is the "only service to organize, train and equip a dedicated rescue force capable of full-spectrum PR across a wide range of threat and environmental operating conditions."
"The HH-60G and Guardian Angel pararescue forces are prepared for all PR missions, from CSAR to CASEVAC, along with humanitarian disaster relief and non-combatant evacuation operations," said Alkire.
The dual role tasking, for both theater PR and CASEVAC in Southern Afghanistan has AF rescue forces gainfully employed. The rescue squadron regularly employs with Army, Marine and British Rescue Forces responding to missions. The ranges of mission requests are often diverse, from ridgeline extractions to dive operations, casualty evacuations to CSAR recoveries. Alkire feels "the highly maneuverable Pave Hawk helicopter and the PJs are uniquely suited to accomplish them all in support of sister services and international partners."
"The rescue squadron has been very successful in taking on the broader roles in support of the medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan, while maintaining the constant alert required by the CSAR mission," said Alkire. "The aircrews and the pararescue teams continue to maintain the highest level of response and care in a highly professional manner day in and day out, whenever or wherever they are tasked.
"I can't ask more than that," he added.
While the number of alert calls is diminishing with the cold weather, the crew's willingness to fly into harm's way is not. And no matter who the patient is, the sense of urgency is still the same, something for which the wounded soldier is grateful.
Safely recovered at Camp Bastion, the soldier is quickly transported from the helicopter to the waiting medical facility, where he is given all the treatment necessary to return him to his unit.
It is another save and another successful mission completed by these Airmen. They return to their rooms to wait for the next call, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get to those in need, risking their lives, "So that others may live."
Some previous/related posts:
The Boo Radleys VII (A1C William Pitsenbarger)
Elsewhere: Don't miss Noah Shachtman's account of his mission with the PJs here. Mike Yon has more PJ mission photos here.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 11, 2010 1:05 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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