For more shots in this series, click HERE.
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Within two hours of the call, Citizen Airmen with 920th Rescue Wing took to the skies bound for a cruise ship roughly 500 miles off the Florida coastline carrying an elderly passenger suffering an acute condition and in need of medical evacuation Nov. 7, 2017.
The long-range mission, requiring two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, Guardian Angel pararescue teams, and an HC-130N King fixed-wing combat aerial refueler, lasted roughly eight hours and ended with the patient and his spouse being safely transported to Holmes Regional Medical Center, Melbourne, Florida.
The initial call went out to the Coast Guard District 5, Portsmouth, Virginia, who then reached out to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, late that morning.
“The RCC had already reached a conclusion before calling the 920th RQW that no other assets could reach the cruise ship in time due to the distance,” said Col. Michael LoForti, 920th Operations Group commander. “It wasn’t a matter if we would help, but could we assist in the rescue effort.”
A meeting was called with the squadron commanders and maintenance to determine if the manpower and assets were available to accept the mission.
“It took less than a minute to make the call,” LoForti said. “We generated the aircrew, aircraft, pararescue teams, and a mission plan, and were able to launch in a matter of hours.”
The plan entailed travelling hundreds of miles to the ship bound for Baltimore, Maryland; lowering two pararescuemen onto the ship; hoisting the patient and his spouse onto the helicopter; and transporting them the hospital.
“It was great seeing everyone come together from maintenance to the aircrew and Guardian Angel rescue teams to make this thing happen,” said 1st Lt. Courtney McCallan, 301st Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter pilot. “I’m glad we could help.”
McCallan piloted the lead aircraft during the mission, watching overhead in an offset position as the second helicopter team conducted the rescue. It was shortly after sunset when the special missions aviation specialist aboard the second hovering Pave Hawk lowered two pararescuemen about 35-feet down onto the ship’s top deck, which sat about 100 feet above the water. After making contact with the patient’s doctor on the ship, the rescue specialists loaded the man into a Stokes basket, a litter made of metal, and hoisted him into the aircraft.
“Even with obstacles like limited visibility with our night vision goggles and having to hover over a moving vessel, they executed the mission flawlessly,” said McCallan.
Shortly after heading back to Florida, the 39th Rescue Squadron’s HC-130N crew lowered the fuel lines for one last air-to-air refueling before the crews dropped off their passengers and headed back to Patrick AFB. The HC-130N crew conducted a total of three air-to-air refuelings during the mission, supplying approximately 15,400 pounds of gas to the helicopters.
“We train for these types of missions often, but when you actually get to put those skills to work and save someone’s life, it’s a pretty fulfilling thing,” said Lt. Col. Bob Seitz, 39th RQS director of operations.
Both the HC-130N and HH-60 crews emphasized the key role maintenance played in the success of the mission, being able to generate all the aircraft necessary so quickly.
“When we hear real-world search and rescue then everything kicks into high gear, and everyone pulls together to make it happen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Grant, 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Helicopter Maintenance Unit superintendent. “We have extremely talented and dedicated individuals in our maintenance complex all with the same goal, and that is to provide the safest, most reliable aircraft for our operators we can. The advantage the Citizen Airmen bring is the experience on the various aircraft. We have individuals that have over 20 years on the airframes.”
LoForti said he is proud of the hard work put forth by the wing’s Citizen Airmen in yet another successful rescue. The 920th Rescue Wing has saved 238 people and 26 pets in the last five months to include two German boaters stranded at sea after their sailboat caught fire and sank as well as victims of Hurricane Harvey.
“The men and women of the 920th Rescue Wing continue to amaze me in their ability to execute challenging short-notice missions” said Loforti. “I’m proud to be a small part of such a motivated wing.”
While some suitable substitutes are, well…suitable, sometimes it is absolutely essential to duplicate the exact gear used at selection. In this write-up, I have done the research and found the 7 critical pieces of equipment that you need to train with to be successful inside the pool while at PJ Indoc, CCT assessment, Phase 2 assessments & Dive School. All of the pieces have equal value: you must be well-rounded to be successful at selection. You could be a stud at underwaters, buddy breathing, mask/snorkel recovery, one man comp, etc etc, but if you can’t handle a weight belt on your hips, you will fail just as easily as someone who struggles in any other event.
I have scoured the internet to find the best prices for you and have provided affiliate links below (all on amazon).
1) The dive mask used for Air Force selection courses is massive. It is important to train on this: Single Lens Dive Mask to get used to the amount of air it takes to clear this behemoth. There are small nuances to this mask that you must get used to such as how to properly trace the head strap & feeling where the nose cup is underwater so you don’t put the mask on upside down (this happens ALL the time to the untrained).
2) Grabbing the right snorkel is critical for buddy breathing. Ensure you get either the: Snorkel – J-Tube or J Tube Snorkel Clear Mouth as getting intimately familiar with this snorkel will help you succeed when you are under full harassment. This snorkel takes a bit more air to clear than other snorkels due to its larger than normal lower mouth piece section. You may have an adjustment period with the bite blocks and upper mouth piece as well I’ve seen guys struggle to establish a seal quickly while in the pool.
3) Finning with stiff Rocket style fins is an experience that cannot be duplicated with substitution. Your legs and feet will need to experience the suck of fin swimming with these: IST Rocket Fins for Military Special Ops, L prior to going to selection. The force that is put on your legs is critical to experience as well as learning the skills of ditch and don with these type of straps will help you be ready for when its time to perform. Expect calf, foot and hamstring cramps when ramping up training with these fins.
4) At selection, booties aren’t just used for finning. An easy way to make underwaters (or any pool event) more challenging is by slapping on these: Black Zippered Dive Bootie and watch yourself struggle. These booties are a perfect fit for the IST Fins mentioned above.
5) There have been many of candidates who could fin great, but once that: Weight Belt, Black went on for the first time, their eyes would get big and they’d mercilessly sink to the bottom. Don’t be that guy that struggles with a weight belt when it comes time to put in on when it counts. This belt also has a clasp that can be difficult to manage while performing ditch & dons.
WARNING: Do not perform weight belt swims in the deep end without a buddy! Always ensure you have the belt setup so it will release with your right hand
6) A weight belt is useless without weights. Grab 4 of these: Uncoated Lace Thru Style Hard Weights, 4Pounds to get 16 lbs total. When starting, I recommend going with 8 lbs and working up to 16. There is a particular way to place these on the belt that unless you’ve been to selection before, you won’t know the nuances– if you are unsure, ask in the specialtactics.com forums here.
7) Underwater knot tying is a skill that takes finesse and repetitiveness to master. Use this: 7mm Accessory Cord to learn the square knot, inside bowline, girth hitch w/ an extra turn and the single fisherman’s knot. TIP: Grab the 20′ or 30′ length and cut out two equal pieces of 36″ each. Use the rest of the rope as your line that you will tie your knot around.
No one wants to think about the glaring possibility that you may not make it. It’s something that no one wants to admit they think about but truthfully nags at them on a daily basis when prepping for assessment. “What if I don’t make it?” Battlefield Airmen (BA) selection is unrelentingly merciless. Wash out rates range from 40-80%, dependent on the AFSC you are striving for. With such high rates, it is inevitable that many will not have what it takes– and that person could be you.
When I went through, I told myself that it would never happen to me. I put immense pressure on myself by telling all of my friends and family that this was my destiny. My mantra was: As far as the Air Force was concerned; it was Battlefield Airmen or BUST.
I also jedi mind-tricked myself at selection. I told myself that I couldn’t quit; there was no way out: I pictured it similarly as if I was in a prisoner of war camp and there was no escape from the selection course. I looked at those that quit as killed off and only the strong survived. (In actuality, the ones that did quit and sounded the horn would never be seen from again- so my analogy of being killed off- although drastic wasn’t that bizarre).
There are two main reasons candidates fail at selection:
1) You fail (ie: injury & evaluation failure)
2) You quit (ie: failure to train & ‘sounding the horn’)
Obviously #1 doesn’t feel as bad on the psyche as #2. No one wants to admit they’re a quitter. I’ve run into many guys over the years that have come and gone through indoc unsuccessfully. The excuses never run dry; especially for the quitters. Regardless of your selection exit strategy, it still sucks.
After facing defeat, it is normal for guys to go hide in a hole and never want to come out. Self pity reigns supreme for months on end while you try to rationalize your failure as a human being. I know this because I was once a #1. (If you would like a background, click here.) And by all means you should go into your dark hole, cry it out a few times and have your pity party! Get it out of your system. Because what happens next will define who you are more than anytime before.
YOUR REHAB PLAN
If Battlefield Airmen selection did not go as planned, its time to pivot and drive to another goal. This can be difficult to accomplish coming from the self pity state mentioned above, but YOU HAVE TO DO IT. Don’t lose sight the mental and physical sacrifice you made to get to selection in the first place- you have the dedication in you to go far. You have to now find a way to re-invigorate that drive somewhere else.
For non-prior service Airmen that failed out of selection right out of BMT- there’s great news: you can try again and succeed. I did. I also know many that have done the same. My advice is take a few months off after selection to cool down, chill out and regain that desire (if you are inclined to head back) and slowly ramp up training again to come back stronger than ever. We can talk more about that gameplan in a later post.
For those that do not desire to head back to BA selection or are ineligible, your path is more difficult. You had dedicated months, if not years, to being a special operator. And now you won’t be. That’s a hell of a hard pill to swallow. Some wither away and are unhappy the rest of their careers due to this failure- I’ve seen it. The challenge is to re-energize your lust for doing something different; something special.
How do you find your new niche? Its not easy. You have to dedicate the same drive and dedication you used to physically prepare yourself for selection to do your search for your new passion. Instead of daily ball-busting workouts, there needs to be daily trips to the library. Replace your iTunes playlist with podcasts such as Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, etc. Start looking at similar type job placements: No luck being a PJ? How about the Search & Rescue team at a Nat’l Park. Couldn’t snag your CCT slot? Go cash in doing Air Traffic Control. Or go do something completely different. It doesn’t matter what it is you want to do, as long as it gets you excited every morning.
Do not let your selection failure define you. Either go back and kick the course in the nuts once and for all -or- use it as your opportunity to be great elsewhere. Now go kick ass and do great things.
From the PJ Pool Wizard Series:
A Halloween edition of alternate water confidence drills for Pararescue & Combat Control trainees. We decided to have some fun on this one. Enjoy
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) — One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017.
With more than 20 U.S. squadrons and nine South Korean air force wings involved, this year’s exercise is the largest to date. Pacific Thunder provides the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts.
“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron and has since grown into a (Pacific Air Forces) level exercise,” said Capt. Travis Vayda, 25th FS Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.
Although the annual exercise features a range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th FS and 33rd RQS.
“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the body guards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR, you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”
During the exercise, the 33rd RQS is able to directly work with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the 25th FS, a conjoined training that both units typically have to simulate.
“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Capt. Dirk Strykowski, 33rd RQS HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena (Air Base, Japan), we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take away from the exercise.”
Pararescuemen and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists from the 31st RQS provide more realism by acting as isolated personnel.
“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” Strykowski said. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”
Through combined CSAR training, Pacific Thunder enhances the combat effectiveness between U.S. and South Korean air forces. Exercises like Pacific Thunder highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between U.S. and South Korean forces, helping to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region
A USAF Pararescue/Guardian Angel Team’s visit to Iceland for NATO’s Air Policing Tasking in 2014.
Combat Controller and Combat Weather candidates perform a jungle run conducted in Joint Base San Antonio – Medina. The jungle run is conducted by the Battlefield Airmen Training Group, 37th Training Wing, AETC
“If you’re going to do something, do it right.” It’s a cliche` saying, but it’s one that has extra importance when applied to special operators. Battlefield Airmen tasks are not just completed right- they are completed exceeding the standard. The term “good enough” is rarely, if ever used in the special tactics community- or else we wouldn’t be special. Because special tactics airmen are a high demand, low density asset, they are used for high risk, specialized tasks that require the most talented individuals the Air Force has to offer. If you want to be one, you need to act like one beforehand.
When training for special tactics selection courses, the same mentality holds true. If you aren’t striving to flourish and improve at every opportunity, you aren’t dedicating the effort required to be successful. This applies to all parts of the day. Time management, prioritization and work effort are all keys to how you plan your training for selection.
Battlefield Airmen selection courses are not simply physical fitness courses designed to weed out the weak. They are that to some degree, but the reality is these selection courses are also designed to find those that are truly dedicated to being a professional. The time and effort you put on yourself to prepare for such courses will be evident to instructors. Those that excel and continually improve on their training will excel. Those that say “Good Enough” will struggle.
For a specific example, look no further than the Battlefield Airmen PAST test (check out the forums for the latest version). When crosstrainees or officers are looking to selected at Phase 2 courses, minimum PAST scores won’t get the job done. Instructors will rarely select candidates with weak but passing PAST numbers. It shouts out to everyone: “I’m content with the minimums!”
Being exceptional is difficult. It requires extra effort, increased diligence and consistent perseverance. It is defined by how much you want this. If you want something bad enough, you will put in the effort to be exceptional. Your natural good looks and wonderboy talent won’t help you here. You must put in the blood, sweat and tears to be successful at selection. This mindset will be the foundation to your successful operational career. Hooyah.