The history of Pararescue began in August of 1943, when 21 persons bailed out of a disabled C-46 over an uncharted jungle near the China-Burma border. So remote was the crash site that the only means of getting help to the survivors was by paradrop. Lieutenant Colonel Don Fleckinger and two medical corpsmen volunteered for the assignment. This paradrop of medical corpsmen was the seed from which the concept of Pararescue was born. For a month these men, aided by natives, cared for the injured until the party was brought to safety. News commentator Eric Severeid was one of the men to survive this ordeal. He later wrote of the men who risked their lives to save his: "Gallant is a precious word; they deserve it".
From this event the need for a highly trained rescue force was found; thus, Pararescueman was brought into being. Rescues since then have occurred in virtually every corner of the world. Since that first rescue, many airmen,soldiers, soldiers,, and civilians have had first hand experience that when trouble strikes, Pararescuemen are ready to come to their aid.
Some of the most inspiring stories originate from the conflict in Southeast Asia involved heroic deeds performed by Pararescuemen. They risked their lives flying over hostile territory to find friendly forces needing aid. Daily, Pararescuemen volunteered to ride a rescue hoist cable into the Vietnamese jungle to aid wounded infantrymen and injured pilots, whose aircraft had been shot down. The Air Force awarded nineteen Air Force Crosses to enlisted personnel during the South East Asian conflict; ten of the nineteen were awarded to Pararescuemen.
Pararescuemen provided medical treatment for injured and wounded men picked up from the jungles. These deeds are still performed daily, even in time of peace. Distinctive recognition came to Pararescuemen in early 1966. General John P. McConnell, then Air Force Chief of Staff, approved the wearing of the maroon beret. The beret symbolizes the blood sacrificed by Pararescuemen and their devotion to duty by aiding others in distress. To Pararescuemen living up to their motto, "That Others May Live",is a daily reality.
The formal training of a Pararescueman is a never ending program. They continually strive to perfect procedures while constantly searching for new techniques. A major development in Pararescue was the combination of parachuting with scuba techniques. When ready to jump, the scuba equipped pararescueman carries as much as 170 pounds of equipment.
One of the most dramatic events involving Pararescue scuba action was at the termination of the Gemini 8 space flight. When the decision was made to halt the mission due to difficulties encountered by Astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong, rescue forces on alert at stations in the far east went into action. A rescue crew from Naha Air Base, Okinawa, flew to the predicted splashdown area and arrived in time to see the spacecraft hit the water
. Three Pararescuemen parachuted into the ocean and had flotation equipment attached within 20 minutes. The Pararescuemen stayed with the astronauts until a Navy destroyer arrived three hours later to take the mall aboard.
Pararescuemen provided continued support to the National Aeronautics and space Administration's (NASA) Skylab missions. Presently, Pararescuemen are providing rescue support to the space shuttle program. Pararescuemen have constantly trained to remain responsive to NASA's needs.
The primary purpose of Pararescue is to save lives. The work of the Pararescuemen is an important phase of the rescue concept. For example, in a two work period, Pararescuemen were called upon to aid two Russian transport merchant seamen in two different areas. The first mission involved a badly burned sailor on a Russian transport vessel in the Atlantic, 700 miles from the nearest land. Two Pararescuemen, stationed in the Azores were flown to the Russian ship. They parachuted near the ship and treated the sailor until the ship reached port days later saving his life. Two weeks later another distress call from a Russian ship was relayed. This time the ship was a fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast. A team of three Pararescuemen from Portland parachuted into the Pacific. They treated the Russian sailor for serious back and head injuries caused by the fall. When the ship was close enough, a Coast Guard vessel picked upthe sailor and took him ashore to a hospital.
In 1989, Pararescuemen were instrumental in recovering and treating injured motorists at a collapsed section of highway following a devastating earthquake in the San Francisco, California area. Pararescuemen were the only rescue people "on-scene" who would volunteer to crawl
between the sections of collapsed highway to access conditions and recover casualties. In recognition of the selfless dedication to saving lives President Bush personally recognized the heroic actions of these men.
More recently, Pararescuemen were among the first U.S. combatants to parachuteinto Panama during operation "Just Cause" (1989). Their combat medical expertise was heavily utilized during this short, intense operation. In fact, using specially modified vehicles dubbed "RATT-V's"they recovered and cared for the majority of the U.S. casualties that occurred on the two Panamanian controlled airfields that were taken by the initial invasion forces.
Recently, Pararescuemen were tasked with rescue missions involving downed aircrew members and injured combatants during United Nations operation"Desert Storm". This action for the liberation of Kuwait again proved the value of the Air Force Pararescueman. Among the missions performed by Pararescue was the rescue of a downed F-14 navigator in a very hostile area; involving the destruction of enemy forces in very close proximity to the survivor. Pararescue also provided extensive support for airlift operations providing humanitarian relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing into northern Iraq.
Most recently, Pararescuemen were involved in the struggle to capture Somalia leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid. Assigned jointly with army Rangers, PJs were tasked to operate in a Search and Rescue (SAR) role on Army helicopters.After the initial assault began, two Army helicopters were shot down, PJ sresponded to the scene to assist survivors and treat the wounded. The helocrashes were in the middle of the battle zone. The PJs, along with a Combat Controller and additional Army Rangers, were inserted into the firefight, removed injured personnel from further danger and administered life saving emergency medical treatment. As a direct result of their actions, the missionwas completed and many lives were saved in the process.
Extracted from 342 TRS/CTFI Pamphlet 50-1
A1C William H. Pitsenbarger
Three HH-43F's from Detachment 6 38th ARRS, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, are launched to evacuate wounded US Army personnel from a fire fight 33 miles southeast. Pedro 73, on which Airman Pitsenbarger, "Pitts", serves, is able to evacuate on severely wounded soldier to Binh Ba field hospital, eight miles south. Pedro 73 returns to the extraction site, lowering Pitts to the ground by hoist to assist with litter loading and to provide emergency care. Pedro 73 returns to Binh Ba with another litter patient, leaving Pitts to continue organizing evacuees and treating patients. Pedro 73 returns to evacuate more wounded and pick up Airman Pitsenbarger. While enroute, Pedro 73 is advised that enemy activities have intensified and the area is hot. Just as he lowers another stokes litter, he receives heavy enemy small arms fire, causing the pilot to immediately guillotine (cut) the hoist cable and break away. Heavily damaged, Pedro 73 makes it safely to Binh Ba, but enemy fire is so intense no other aircraft can return to the site. From army survivors, glowing reports of Pitts' heroism emerge. Constantly throughout the night, while sustaining mortar attacks and deadly sniper fire, pitts moves amongst the wounded, rendering medical aid and distributing weapons and ammunition, often becoming a human shield as he drags the more seriously injured to the relative safety of the inner perimeter. In the morning, after a night of intense fire fights another Pedro returns to a now quiet battle site. A1C Harry O'Beirne is lowered by hoist to evacuate the few remaining survivors. He finds Pitts lying across a deceased soldier to whom he had been administering medical aid. In his hand is his weapon, aiming out into the now silent jungle. Airman Pitsenbarger is awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously. He becomes the first publicly announced enlisted recipient of the AF Cross in its history.
AEROSPACE RESCUE AND RECOVERY SERVICE
(Vol. 4, No. 8) Headquarters, ARRS, Scott AFB, IL August 1978
RESCUE MEN CLIMB TO TOP
Mt. McKinley; second time for AF team
By Capt. Richard B. Hodges
21st Composite Wing, Information Officer
ELMENDORF AFB, AK – Capt. Al Nickerson, an HC-130 Hercules aircraft commander with the 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS), here, banked his gray and orange rescue airplane into a tight turn. Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Dick Hoover, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, punched the radio button, "Pararescue, Pararescue, this is Air Force Rescue Eight Two Four … Congratulations. I’ve got a message to read to you from (Maj.) General (Ralph S.) Saunders. ‘I’ve been following your progress. I salute you upon obtaining your goal. All of us in Rescue are proud of you. Have a safe trip back.’"
Colonel Hoover had just relayed comments from the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS) commander to five Air Force pararescue specialists atop the summit of Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain. Later that day direct communication by radio-telephone was established and General Saunders personally passed his congratulations to the team.
TSgt. Robert L. LaPointe, a pararescue specialist and team leader with the 71st ARRS, acknowledged from the 20,320-foot peak. It was Sergeant LaPointe’s third and toughest climb of Mt. McKinley, it was the second climb by an Air Force team, and the first by the Air Force’s only certified high-altitude rescue team.
The "total force" climb included eight PJs from the 71st ARRS; one Air Force Reservist from the 303rd ARRS, March AFB, CA; and a climber from the Air National Guard’s 102nd ARRS, Suffolk City Airport, NY. The seasoned mountain climbers began their climb May 22 from a 7,000-foot base camp.
The climb was to provide realistic high altitude rescue training as well as refine arctic mountain climbing techniques. After the climb, the team members were certified as the Air Force’s only high altitude rescue team and ready for deployment to anywhere in the world.
Led by Sergeant LaPointe, five members of the 10-man team reached the summit June 9. They were: TSgt. Terry L. Wetzel, SSgt. Daniel L. Hodler, and Sgt. John F. Cassidy, all of the 71st ARRS. Also reaching the top was TSgt. Michael French, an Air Force Reservist of the 303rd ARRS.
Prior to the climb each team member had to receive permission from the National Park Service at Mt. McKinley. "Each of us had to send in our past climbing histories along with a physician’s release," explained Sgt. Paul K. Koester, a 71st ARRS pararescueman.
Each man was assigned a specific job. Sergeant LaPointe was the overall team leader and Sergeants Wetzel, Koester and French assisted as rope leaders. Sergeant Koester was also assistant expedition leader.
"This was my evaluation as a team leader," said Sergeant Koester, who passed his "check ride" and expects to lead his own team in the future. It was also an evaluation of Sergeant Wetzel’s leadership abilities. He too passed the "check ride".
Other team members were in charge of radio communications while "rope leaders" were responsible for two or three men on a rope. Other climbers had first aid or repair kit responsibilities. Each man carried up to an 85-pound load.
Two of the men, Sgts. Bruce Hickson and Thomas A. Crouch were taken off the mountain by a special Army high-altitude CH-47 Chinook rescue helicopter at the 18,000-foot level on June 8th. Both suffered acute mountain sickness (AMS) and cerebral edema. Team leader Sergeant LaPointe radioed the Elmendorf AFB Rescue Coordination Center for the emergency evacuation. According to Sergeant LaPointe, "Sergeant Hickson needed medical attention and I felt it necessary to send a pararescueman back to the hospital with him and Sergeant Crouch." Sergeant Crouch also had cerebral edema and was too ill to help Sergeant Hickson. Someone would have to go to help. It was a tough decision to make after 18 days of all-out climbing. The man to go back would lose his chance to reach the summit after climbing to within 2,000 feet of it. Sergeant LaPointe was spared the decision: TSgt. George P. Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Air National Guardsman, volunteered to help the two ill climbers back to the Hospital.
Sergeant Hickson, a 22-year-old pararescueman with four years service made it to the summit last year in the Air Force’s first climb of Mt. McKinley. That climb also was led by Sergeant LaPointe. Sergeant Hickson says of his altitude sickness, "I can’t really explain it. Sometimes it affects you and sometimes it doesn’t."
Another climber, Sgt. Gerald W. Hoag, 23, also suffered from mountain sickness at 17,000 feet and had to be helped back to the base camp by Sergeant Koester. On the way down the West Buttress, Sergeants Koester and Hoag met 70-knot winds that plunged the wind chill factor to 80-100 degrees below zero.
The team, being young, was more apt to suffer from altitude sickness than middle age climbers. According to Sergeant Koester, "The top climbers right now, that are doing a lot of high-altitude work in the Himalayas, are approximately 35-50 years old."
According to Sergeant LaPointe, "Both Sergeants had AMS with Sergeant Hickson lapsing into unconsciousness as a result of severe cerebral edema." At the hospital the two were soon released.
Not all the climbers were affected by mountain sickness. Sergeant Koester said, "I felt really good, even stronger than I did last year. It’s just a natural acclimatization and there’s no way to speed it up. You just have to spend time at each camp and let the body build itself up to that altitude."
Sergeant LaPointe added, "You can’t condition your body to resist mountain sickness. You can make it to the top one time and on the next climb you might become very ill with mountain sickness. Sergeant Hickson, for example, made it to the summit last year."
The climb had other problems too. Sergeant LaPointe described the weather as "terrible." Mountain storms with high winds, kept them inside tents several days during the 19-day climb. "The weather on Mt. McKinley has been known to be much worse than Mt. Everest," Sergeant Koester said.
The lowest temperatures the climbers encountered was about 60 degrees below zero with winds up to 60-70 knots.
The poor weather did not improve as the climbers went higher. Sergeant Crouch explained, "From camp three to four, we moved for six hours in whiteout conditions navigating with a compass." (A whiteout is an arctic weather condition where the horizon cannot be seen, no object casts a shadow and only dark objects can be seen.)
In preparation for the climb, team members studied maps and charts of the West Buttress route, reviewed high-altitude illnesses, radio procedures and intensified their physical conditioning.
Team leader, Sergeant LaPointe, ran 25 miles day prior to the climb. "I’d get up at 5:30 a.m. and run 12-13 miles and then run again after work," the 140-pound PJ said. "All team members knew what was expected of them in the way of physical conditioning. Anyone who didn’t keep up in the conditioning program would not go on the climb. Most of the team members knew about six months in advance that they were selected for the climb and began working out," Sergeant LaPointe explained.
An Air Force member for eight years, Sergeant Hodler began mountaineering in Pararescue school. "John Cassidy and I climbed several glaciers in Iceland and we attended Berghwacht Mountain Rescue School in Germany," said the 240-pound Hodler. He also climbed in Colorado.
For Sergeant Wetzel, "I really got introduced to mountain climbing and started when I was stationed over in England. While there I went climbing all through Wales, Scotland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland." He has attended nine mountaineering schools including one in Wales taught by the Royal Air Force. He has also completed an instructor course in mountain climbing and is qualified to teach mountaineering techniques. His prior experience includes being an expedition leader and a rope leader with the Alaskan Rescue group as well as a member of the Anchorage Rescue Council. With mountain climbing as his hobby, he has scaled Mounts Whitney, Shasta, Rainier, Baden, the Matterhorn and several others.
Team member Sergeant French said. "When notified I would be on the climb I was already in training for a 200-mile bicycle marathon. Each day I ran three to nine miles, biking 20-60 miles and did some weight training." Sergeant French had other qualifications for the climb; his hobby is mountain climbing too. He has climbed Mounts Hood, Shasta and Whitney as well as Pico de Orizaba (an 18,800-foor volcano in Mexico). "There were many others I consider more qualified to make the climb, but I had the experience, equipment and had the time to make the climb," he explained.
Sergeant Cassidy was notified a week prior to the climb that he would be a team member. "I was an alternate so I was in training six months before the climb," the 22-year-old PJ said. His daily conditioning included a one-and-a-half to two mile swim, a two-to-three mile run, pushups and sit-ups. He has climbed in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho as well as glaciers in Iceland and Alaska.
Sergeant Crouch’s preparations for the climb included running in addition to weight training. He has climbed several 700 to 1,500-foot vertical faces in Korea and trained as a medium wall and pinnacle climber.
In commenting on their objective, Sergeant LaPointe stated, "The goal of the team was not necessarily to reach the top; the goal was to conduct high altitude living. We spent a week above 17,000 feet, which is unusual for any mountaineering group. We put 50 per cent (of the team members) on the summit and could have put 70 per cent if the men in good health had not had to evacuate men who were ill."
Sergeant LaPointe considers the climb very successful. He said, "The National Park Service told me the success ratio of climbs this year was the lowest ever and several evacuations were necessary." Multiple storms and high winds kept many climbers from completing the climb.
Comparing the climb to those on other mountains, Sergeant LaPointe said, "The summit of Mt. McKinley is 20,320 feet. From base to summit, it’s the largest mountain on earth. Our vertical climb from the 7,000-foot base camp to the summit was over 13,000 feet. When people climb Mt. Everest, they began at between 17,000-18,000 feet and climb the 29,000 summit. Also Mt. Everest is a "warmer" climb. The Mt. McKinley climb is an arctic climb all the way."
Throughout the 19-day venture darkness never came. Alaska, "Land of the Midnight Sun," has virtually total daylight during mid-Summer.
They weren’t alone on the mountain. "We met many people and made several friends," Sergeant LaPointe said. Sergeant French added, "I met several of my mountain climbing friends from California." The team also met a husband and wife mountain climbing team as well as two skiers who schussed from the 10,000-foot level. Sergeant Koester added, "We met a group of 20 Japanese, quite a few Americans and a couple of German groups as we came down."
The team’s descent was rapid. "We pushed so hard the last day, it was unbelievable," Sergeant LaPointe said. The team went from the 16,200-foot level to the 7,000-foot base camp in less than 12 hours. "We were tired, thirsty and dehydrated…and we wanted to go home," he stated.
The men are now back with their units and on the job as rescue specialists except for Sergeant LaPointe, who is on his way to Washington, D.C., where he and 11 other airmen are to be honored as Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 1978.
Thanks to Rev. Richard B. Hodges, a former Information Officer (Public Affairs Officer) assigned to Alaskan Air Command’s 21st Composite Wing’s Office of Information (1976-1979). He served with the active duty Air Force for nine years; the Air Force Reserve for eight years, and now continues to serve with the S.C. Air National Guard. A Presbyterian minister for 16 years, he has always been in the Public Affairs career field.
MSgt. Thede – a nice addition to the history page wold be something like the following…
Epilogue…Where are they now?
The five who made the summit…
TSgt. Robert L. LaPointe – 71 ARRS -- Bob LaPointe is still a PJ. He serves in the Alaska Air National Guard.. He is currently going to school and working on a PJ Vietnam history book.
SSgt. John F. Cassidy – 71 ARRS – John Cassidy retired from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant. He lives in Alaska.
TSgt. Terry L. Wetzel – 71 ARRS
SSgt. Daniel L. Hodler – 71 ARRS
TSgt. Michael French – 303 ARRS
(You might know the details. It would make for an interesting end to a 21-year-old story.)
The Original Ten Members of the Mt. McKinley Team… May 22 - June 9, 1978
TSgt. Robert L. LaPointe 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
Sgt. Paul K. Koester 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
SSgt. John F. Cassidy 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
TSgt. Terry L. Wetzel 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
SSgt. Daniel L. Hodler 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
Sgt. Bruce Hickson 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
Sgt. Thomas A. Crouch 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
Sgt. Gerald Hoag 71 ARRS, Elmendorf AFB, AK
TSgt. George P. Gonzalez 102 ARRS, Suffolk Airport, NY (ANG)
TSgt. Michael French 303 ARRS, March AFB, CA (AFRES
(Note - I believe these names and units are correct. LaPointe and/or Cassidy would know for sure. – Hodges)
The tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley rises about 6194 m (about 20,320 ft) above sea level. It is known to Native Americans as Denali ("the high one"). Denali National Park, home to McKinley, encompasses 19,088 sq km (7369.9 sq mi) in central Alaska.
An article by John Cassidy
Copyright ©1999 All Rights Reserved
The USAF pararescue specialty (AFSC 1T2X1)
dates back to World War II. In 1943 aircrew casualties began to climb and the Army Air
Forces became increasingly concerned with the need for rescue. Rescue squadrons activated
and dispatched to all parts of the globe. Placed under the operational control of theater
commanders, units adapted themselves to particular local conditions. Distances, geographic
conditions, and the frequency and type of incidents dictated the equipment and methods
used. One rule applied, "Rescue forces must presume survivors in each crash until
proved otherwise." Thus, a unique element of aerial rescue, pararescue, perfects
techniques and equipment to provide on-site medical and survival expertise.
Progress Of Operations
1922: Air evacuation system proposed; Col.
Albert E. Truby (MC); predicted that "airplane ambulances" would be used in the
future for purposes that included taking medical officers to the site of crashes and
bringing casualties from the crash back to hospitals.
Emergency surface vehicles and ground teams could not
cover the remote and uninhabited terrain over which the plane could fly.
It was not until W.W.II when aviation reached full
combat stature that aerial rescue techniques began to be developed in earnest. In addition
to reflecting the concern for humanitarian values, this reflects also a hard-headed
concern for a highly skilled combat team which cost much in time and effort to produce.
1940: First para-doctor trained, Dr. Leo P. Martin,
by U.S. Forest Service Parachute Training Center, Seeley Lake, Montana. Captain Leo P.
Martin, USAAF, MC, was Chief Flight Surgeon at Walla Walla Army Air Base during W.W.II.,
and killed 25 October 1942 in a military plane crash. Forest Service conducted for the
following twenty-four year period rescue jumper training to physicians, medics, and other
specialist of the U.S. Coast Guard and military services. These rescue jumpers provided
on-site medical care to injured smoke jumpers, survivors of crashed aircraft, and other
distressed and isolated people. The highly successful operations accomplished by these
pioneer rescue jumpers contributed to the development of USAF pararescue teams in 1947.
July 12, 1940, U.S. Forest Service: "Smoke
jumpers" Earl Cooley and Rufus Robinson jumped then state of the art steerable
parachutes and protective equipment to the site of a forest fire. Demonstrated precision
parachuting techniques and methods can put fire fighters safely into roadless wilderness
areas to suppress forest fires.
Smoke jumper techniques, methods, and equipment
totally different from techniques, methods, and equipment used by Army airborne jumpers.
Emphasized ability: to select drop zones from the air; to drop spotter chutes to help
compute and correct for existing wind conditions; and to use steerable parachutes and
protective equipment to hit a selected spot on the ground under any conditions.
The B-29 "Clobbered Turkey" crashes
December 23, 1947 with eight crewmembers on-board. The ensuing rescue operation
demonstrated the importance of proper equipment, methods, and techniques. On 27 December
1947 a senior officer directs Lt Albert C. Kinney, Jr., USAAF (MC), First Sergeant
Santhell O. London, and T/5 Leon J. Casey to jump to the crash site located 95 miles north
of Nome Alaska. They were ill-prepared for what they encountered. The hostile environment
(poor visibility, high winds 25 MPH to 40 MPH, and temperatures -40°F to -50°F) soon
claim the lives of the three jumpers. Surface rescue teams rescue six survivors of the
crashed B-29 on December 29th. Sgt London's body is found 500 yards from the wreckage on
January 5th. On January 12th search teams find the body of paratrooper T/5 Casey seven
miles from the crash site. They also find the bodies of Lt. Vern H. Arnett (pilot), Lt.
Frederick E. Sheetz (Navigator), crewmembers of the "Clobbered Turkey" who
decided two days after the crash to walk out of the wilderness to get help, about four
miles north of the crashed B-29. The saga of the "Clobbered Turkey" ends when
the flight surgeon's body is found on 2 July 1948. Contributing causes for the tragic
death of three parachutists include: lack of adequate training on how to survive in the
hostile environment; survival equipment was not carried or available; flight surgeon had
no jump or field experience; they jumped unaware the surface winds exceeded 30 mph;
dragged by their parachutes, for miles, over the tundra. Rescue jumper equipment,
procedures, and techniques would have prevented this useless loss of life.
1941-45, World War II: Rescue capabilities provided
by a hodgepodge of specialties assigned to various military operations. i.e., surgical
technicians, flight surgeons, operating surgeons, anesthetists, surgical nurses,
intelligence officers, personal equipment officers, etc. The battlefield was not the
primary concern. Open water and remote and isolated land areas dominated search and rescue
activities. Aircrews downed behind enemy lines were virtually certain of capture or death.
Some Army Air Corps and Navy aircrews used to conduct long-range rescue-escort missions
incorporated with long-range bombing raids. Amphibious and conventional aircraft were
landed in both land and water areas to recover downed aircrews. Rescue teams parachuted
into incident sites where landings could not be made.
European Theater of Operations. The primary mission
was combat and an important aspect of medical care was the care of flying personnel and
combat casualties. Senior medical officers recognized need for more tactical training for
medical personnel. Medical Department put enlisted men on a rigid training schedule in the
care and evacuation of combat casualties. Particular attention given to the administration
of plasma and oxygen, splinting of fractures, treatment of shock, control of hemorrhage,
the use of numerous medical appliances, and avoiding/countering new health hazards. The
extremely high rate of losses among crews forced down over water created another concern.
An emergency rescue unit was activated which raised the number of 8th Air Force crews
saved from 1.5 percent in early 1943 to 43 percent in 1944. This concept subsequently
adopted throughout the Army Air Forces.
China Burma India (CBI) Theater of Operations. A
secondary theater having vast isolated areas and a long treacherous subsidiary range of
the Himalayas known by flyers as the "Hump". Rescue forces conducted long range
missions using parachute qualified teams to access remote incident sites. The team
shepherded or carried casualties to hospitals or to areas where landing could be made for
evacuation. Rescue teams consisted of medical officers, surgical technicians, and air
evacuation technicians. Also, rescue jumpers onboard cargo and bombardment aircraft used
to support very long range bomber raids. Search and rescue missions were undertaken in
remote regions and areas unoccupied by the Japanese.
At Chabua, in eastern India, there gradually
developed an aggressive search and rescue program intended to save the men who crashed or
bailed out over mountains or jungle. Under the leadership of Captain John L.
("Blackie") Porter and Lt Col Don Flickenger specialized search and rescue
proved to be both ingenious and effective. Teamscomposed of medical and
survival specialistswould be transported to the landing strip nearest the
crash site, or parachute to a suitable clearing, would proceed overland into the jungle
and recover downed airmen. Likewise, aircraft were used to remove the teams and survivors
after completion of the mission. After a very successful series of rescues, Porter was
killed on 10 December 1943 when his B-25 and another rescue plane were lost to enemy
Lt Col Don Flickinger, Wing Flight Surgeon, Sergeant
Harold Passey, Combat Surgical Technician, and Corporal William MacKenzie, Combat Surgical
Technician, parachute to the assistance of the crew and passengers (twenty men in all,
including Eric Sevareid, CBS commentator) who had abandoned a disabled C-46 on 2 August
1943 over the much-feared Naga country in northern Burma. Although pararescue teams were
not officially authorized and trained until July 1947, U.S. Air Force pararescuemen
consider this mission to be the birth of pararescue.
Pacific Theater of Operations. Primitive conditions
and island warfare such that the Air Force assault mission was to establish airfields from
which missions could be launched. For flying personnel, weather conditions (clouds, fog,
ice) were more destructive than Japanese fighter aircraft. If forced to land or bail out,
death from exposure was a very real danger. The Army Air Forces' recognized the need for
self-sufficient rescue units early in the war and by August 1943 programmed for the
creation of seven emergency (ER) squadrons. One ER squadron saved 300 men from death or
capture during the first six months of its operations.
Besides saving lives on the sea, the emergency rescue
air squadrons and boat crews were often called upon for land search rescue. Friendly
natives often hid Allied pilots and managed to convey word of their presence to the
nearest AAF forces. Evacuation by air or boat was then arranged.
North Africa and Mediterranean Theater of Operations.
Rescue operations and missions impromptu and improvised as required by the situation.
Although activities in the combat theaters dominated
global rescue operations, rescue needs in other isolated land areas received increasing
attention as the war dragged on. Airlift and deploying combat aircraft flew north through
Canada and Alaska, others flew through South America, across the Atlantic into Africa and
then into CBI, Mediterranean, or European theaters of operation. By 1945 air rescue had
improved to the point where chances of rescue were good, given adequate planning and
advantageous positioning of the forces.
29 May 1946: The Air Rescue Service (ARS) officially
organized to achieve world-wide unification of the U.S. Army Air Force's aerial rescue
operations and to develop and perfect rescue techniques and equipment.
Global search and rescue concept oriented to saving
the lives of Air Force crews who may be involved in: aircraft disasters, accidents, crash
landings, ditching, or abandonment which occur away from an air base. In addition to these
everyday missions of rescue and evacuation, units will be ready to deploy to any area of
the world in support of air operations.
Air base commanders maintained jurisdiction for local
area crash-rescue and controlled all functions equipped for these purposes. Local Base
Rescue (LBR) helicopter operations established at some locations. Limited by technology of
the era to 135-mile travel radius with limited lift capabilities (about four people
including pilot and copilot).
Rescue jumper concept oriented to maintaining
capabilities compatible with the mission of long-range transports and bombers; to
rendering medical and survival expertise to aircrews and other personnel on front lines
and in territory behind the battle line; and to providing service for other agencies and
activities when aerial rescue assistance is requested. These parachutists formed the
nucleus of instructor personnel in the Pararescue and Survival School conducted by the 5th
Rescue Squadron, MacDill AFB, Florida, shortly after pararescue teams authorized in July
September 18, 1947: The U.S. Air Force became an
independent service with a status coequal with the Army and Navy.
1 July 1947: Pararescue teams authorized and
established and first teams ready for field assignment in November 1947. Teams composed of
a para-doctor and four pararescue technicians; cross-trained in medical, rescue and
survival, and tactical procedures. Medical Service Corps (MSC) officers replaced
para-doctors, Medical Corps (MC) officers in short supply, as members of pararescue teams
in 1949. General Dubose issued a directive, 2 October 1952, removing Medical Corps
officers from jump duties and prohibited MCs from participating in actual pararescue
activities of any nature. Medical Service Corps officers deleted from pararescue teams in
November 1952. MSC officers participated in pararescue activities with some teams until
1960. Master Sergeants, experienced pararescuemen in all cases, attend Medical Service
Supervisors Course at Gunter AFB (19 weeks) and assigned duties of pararescue team
commanders as MSC officers are phased out of the teams in 1953.
Pararescue military occupation specialty, MOS 3383,
Rescue Survival Specialty, approved (1948). Changed to: AFSC 921X0, Rescue Survival
Specialty (ca. 1957); AFSC 923X0, Para-Rescue/Recovery Specialty (1967); AFSC 115X0,
Pararescue/Recovery Specialty (1975); and AFSC 1T2X1 Pararescue/Recovery Specialty (1993).
Occupation established as part of the Aircrew Protection Specialty Codes on 31 October
1953 by AFR 35-492. Pararescue AFSC and positions are not aligned under or utilized within
the Air Force medical service.
Pararescue teams assigned to each Air Rescue Service
squadron to give global coverage. Teams equipped and trained to jump to the aid of crashed
airman in areas inaccessible by other means.
The Air Rescue Service (ARS) assumed responsibility
of continuing pararescue training in order to meet world wide Air Force requirements.
Alignment of all Air Rescue Squadrons under ARS begins in June 1948 and ends on July 1,
1950. Does not include Local Base Rescue (LBR) units which remain under the jurisdiction
of the air base commanders.
Formal rescue concept established: Wartime rescue
operations will be dictated by the capabilities of equipment used for peacetime SAR, and
will be conducted in accordance with JANAF [Joint Army, Navy, Air Force] and Standard
Wartime SAR procedures.
1950-52, Korean War: Battlefield was the primary
concern and offered the first test for search and rescue organizational tactics developed
after World War II. Rescue concept, for the first time as a standard procedure, included
the rescue of stranded personnel from behind enemy lines. Air Rescue assigned mission of
rescuing pilots and other UN personnel from behind the enemy lines and evacuating
critically wounded men from front line first aid stations to mobile army surgical
hospitals in the rear. Rescue aircraft made history landing in remote areas inside enemy
territory to retrieve downed pilots. Air-rescue crews saved 170, or ten percent, of the
USAF airmen who were lost in action over enemy territory. Air-rescue crews, in fulfillment
of all missions: rescued 996 men from enemy territory; rescued 86 men from within friendly
lines; and evacuated a total of 8,598 men, most of whom were front-line ground casualties.
On the front and in enemy territory pararescuemen
flew on air rescue aircraft to render emergency medical treatment to the injured. They
were the preferred medical aircrew members for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft undertaking
rescue and front line air-evacuation of front-line casualties to mobile army surgical
Pararescuemen often required to make extended
excursions from the helicopters in enemy territory to recover downed pilots. Excursions
frequently required a surface stay of 24 to 48 hours with 2 to 3 miles of overland travel.
Longest known, Lone Wolf, excursion lasted 72 hours
in enemy territory.
Medical service personnel forbidden to get off the
helicopters when survivor's location or condition precluded effective utilization of such
aircraft. Only pararescue employed from the helicopter, as long as chance of reaching the
survivor existed, to continue the mission and physically control the fate of the survivor.
Pararescue provided combat medical coverage for at
least one airborne operation needed for combat operations at Suwon and Seoul. A three man
pararescue element inserted as part of a reception party, 24 September 1950, on the
Munsan-ni drop zone prior to the airdrop of 3,500 paratroopers, 187 Airborne Regimental
Combat Team (RCT).
Dateline, Korea, 12 October 1950: While Communist
slugs snapped past his head; a pararescueman, Captain John C. Shumate, USAF, MSC, exited a
rescue helicopter; ran to a downed aircraft; lifted a critically injured pilot out of his
plane; and carried him to the helicopter. As the helicopter took off, Shumate, went to
work on the badly hurt pilot administering blood plasma and rendering life saving medical
treatment. Thus, this was first known transfusion given during a helicopter evacuation.
16 April 1954: Two pararescuemen, TSgt Elliott Holder
and SSgt Robert Christiansen, jumped to the crash site of a Navy patrol bomber high on the
Polar Ice Cap, far above the Arctic Circle. They landed in high winds and traveled more
than a mile over treacherous ice ridges to the crash. A storm with temperatures below zero
and winds, oftentimes exceeding 100 knots, howled around them for eleven days. On the 12th
day, the storm abated and they and the bodies (all aboard the bomber died upon impact)
were lifted from the crash site by helicopter.
Previously, no expert considered military operations
in the Arctic practical or even possible on any significant scale because of the extreme
cold, high winds, and difficult terrain. This and other ice-cap rescue jumps proved
conclusively that with proper expertise, minimal equipment, and a few "guts,"
troops can survive and operate for significant periods of time under the worst of arctic
1956: Although ARS was unable to maintain an accurate
count of lives saved by its units, their estimate concludes that over 4,078 people had
been found and rescued from certain death. The mission of ARS is to provide a professional
rescue force, specially trained and equipped to support global air operations. The ARS
also will: maintain all squadrons in a state of readiness to deploy in support of USAF air
operations; participate in joint SAR operations in accordance with AFM 1-1 and National
SAR plan; and assist in retrieving and safeguarding hazardous cargoes (special weapons) in
accordance with AFR 55-14.
"Constituting an elite corps within the Air
Rescue Service are the Paramedics. They are a breed apart and certainly among the best
trained men in the armed forces today. Precision parachutists, highly trained medics,
expert on survival under any earthly conditions, these men will jump anywhere anytime a
possibility exists that there is a life to be saved."
"Tough and courageous, these men form an elite
corps within Rescue and if a man is alive when they get him, he couldn't be in better
hands. Doctors who have seen paramedics in action claim that, to do more than these men
can do, you'd have to parachute in a whole hospital."
Rescue activities in the Korean war and other
missions proved pararescuemen to be the best qualified to establish that final link to the
survivor, whether it be by hoist, landing, raft, overland, or by parachute. Pararescue
personnel validated as aircrew members and jumpers on all ARS aircraft. Consequently the
ARS commander removed Aero-medical personnel from aircrew status on rescue aircraft in
1961-75, Southeast Asia: The fighting actually
involved several wars, each interrelated conflict posed different problems in rescuing and
recovering aircrews shot down in enemy territory. The leadership at Air Rescue Service was
not convinced that it had a legitimate wartime rescue mission consequently planners had
not planned for war. By late 1962 and early 1963 it was evident that combat rescues
required more than a crew, a helicopter, and good intentions. The air-rescue crews gave
each mission all they had and successfully, in Southeast Asia, saved 3,883 human beings
from death, suffering, or captivity.
1960: ARS had very few helicopters. Acquisition of
local base rescue functions provided Air Rescue Service some additional helicopters, but
these HH-43 "Huskies" were primarily used in fire-fighting and picking up pilots
who had bailed out in close proximity to an air base.
1961: The rescue vehicles in the Air Rescue Service
inventory were ill-suited for extended search and rescue in jungles and mountains.
By late 1961: A local base rescue unit was stationed
at every major AF installation in the world. The HH-43B was limited to a relatively small
radius of action that varied between 125 to 140 nautical miles. Five man pararescue teams
provided both firefighter and medical support at the Bien Hoa and Da Nang units. Other
local Base Rescue activities utilized firefighter and medical technician personnel to
perform local area recoveries from non hostile areas. Air rescue helicopter capabilities
did not significantly increase until 1967.
By 1964 the pararescueman was the most admired man on
the rescue team for several reasons: The pararescueman was always the first friendly face
seen by the flier downed in enemy territory; It was the pararescueman who was lowered by
forest-penetrator to retrieve the survivor; It was the pararescueman who would parachute
into the water if survivors were unable to reach or use the rescue kit airdropped to them;
It was the pararescueman who rendered life saving medical treatment, if the survivor was
injured; and on the occasions when not all could be transported, it was the pararescueman
who stayed behind.
· May 26, 1966: The Chief of Staff approves the
pararescue uniform. He noted: "Pararescue personnel are highly trained specialists
who perform extremely hazardous duties demanding the very highest of mental and physical
discipline and thus deserve to wear the distinctive attire consisting of maroon beret,
bloused trousers with combat boots, and special badge, both on and off base."
September 30, 1967: The HU-16 Albatross completed its
last amphibious recovery and is replaced by the HH-3E helicopter, which was capable of
landing on the water. In the five years of service, in SEA, Albatrosses picked up
twenty-six (26) USAF and twenty-one (21) Navy aircrew members. These recoveries were some
of the most dangerous rescue missions of the war.
A1C James E. Pleiman was the first pararescue KIA
which occurred during a rescue mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, 14 March 1966. The HU-16
Pleiman was on had landed in the water to pick up two downed pilots and was hit by shore
batteries. Pleiman was one of two crewmembers lost. His remains were repatriated,
positively identified, and buried with full military honors in March 1989.
Improving combat skills: To increase effectiveness
and chances for survival, pararescuemen: attend the U.S. Army Special Forces School at Nha
Trang RVN for instruction on how to operate deep within the enemy's sphere of influence
without detection; and enhanced their medical skills by performing duties in emergency and
surgery departments at major in theater medical facilities.
Pararescue recognized as Air Force's primary asset
rendering life saving emergency medical services for the Air Force in hostile, denied, or
sensitive environments. In addition, to the rescue and recovery of downed crewmembers,
they were frequently tasked to assist the air evacuation of the critically wounded from
outlying areas. An extremely hazardous aspect of this air evacuation responsibility was
the hoist extraction of dead or wounded combat ground forces from a remote battle area.
A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman, was
awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously for his actions during an air evacuation mission.
He was killed 11 April 1966 while aiding an encircled Army platoon. He was the first
enlisted man to receive the Air Force's highest decoration since it was established in
Pararescuemen earned ten (10) of the twenty (20) Air
Force Crosses awarded to enlisted men during the SEA conflicts.
1976: Tactical Enhancements; HQ Air Rescue and
Recovery Service convenes a pararescue combat readiness conference to plot a future course
action for pararescue. Strategic tasks and missions committed to combat rescue associated
with contingency operations and war.
ARRS Commander approved recommendation to regenerate
combat skills de-emphasized by pararescue role as an aircrew gunner-scanner acquired
during operations in Southeast Asia.
ARRS Commander, approved recommendation for tactical
enhancement of pararescue's ability to perform extended surface operations. "Proposed
enhancement: the pararescue team will be employed by any clandestine means available,
surface movement will be made to the designated area, the downed crewmember(s) located,
and surface movement to a safe area for pickup."
10 May 1983: HQ 23rd Air Force (MAC) activated.
Consolidates Air Force's special operations and combat rescue forces to facilitate their
efficient employment. Merger results in significant increase in fitness of capabilities
provided to combatant commanders. Pararescue role defined to provide a capability to
augment aerial SAR operations, to conduct surface SAR operations, to manage
multiple-casualty situations, and to support time-sensitive crisis response operations.
Pararescue received new vitality. Focus of
capabilities realigned to emphasize combat medical skills and operations in adverse areas
and conditions. Allowed pararescue to operate either on the aircraft or get off the
aircraft in an extended role to conduct ground search and recovery of isolated personnel,
during war and operations other than war. Pararescue forces demonstrated during exercises
and real world situations the ability to employ limited and extended surface tactics for
the rescue and recovery of pilots downed in enemy territory.
Pararescue described as the cutting edge of the
rescue tool: Major Force Plan 11 provided badly needed facilities and increased O&M
funding; acquisition of new technology and equipment supported; and development and
improvement of training programs encouraged.
January 1984: Pararescue force integrated with
Special Tactics Teams. Unique combination of Combat Control and Pararescue Forces (Det 4,
23AFCOS, Pope AFB NC) established a force with the attributes and operational capabilities
relating directly to an assigned task and mission that cannot be otherwise performed.
Pararescue role expanded to support joint operations
and military priorities in low-intensity conflict. Provides aerial SAR operations, conduct
surface SAR operations, manage multiple casualty and mass triage situations, and
coordinate aeromedical evacuation in support of special tactics activities. Emphasis
toward operating for extended periods to provide "far forward" emergency medical
Begins evolutionary requirement for pararescue in all
special tactics teams.
24 July 1987 to 31 October 1990: 1730 Pararescue
Squadron (PRS), Activated. The sole active-duty rescue function to provide full-time air
and surface rescue capabilities to support U.S. Air Force operations during Just Cause and
Desert Shield. HQ ARS deactivated unit while most of its forces were deployed in support
of Southwest Asia combat operations. However, the former 1730 PRS pararescue teams
remained in place and continued to render rescue and recovery services for the duration of
Availability and capability of dedicated Air Force
CSAR aircraft limited. Situation required tasking pararescue capability separate from
dedicated rescue-coded aircraft in order to accomplish air rescue objectives. Pararescue
teams accomplish combat and humanitarian missions from any available DOD aircraft, i.e.,
Air Force C-141s, C-130s; Coast Guard and U.S. Marine C-130s and helicopters; and Army and
Pararescue Unit Type Codes (UTCs) developed and
approved. Facilitated tasking pararescue forces to perform rescue and recovery operations
from any combat-coded aircraft capable of employing pararescue.
The 1730th PRS merited the Air Force Outstanding Unit
Award on 15 November 1989. The accompanying citation to the award identifies that this
pararescue squadron and its nine separately located units distinguished itself by
exceptionally meritorious service from 1 August 1987 to 31 July 1989.
1 August 1989: Air Rescue Service re-established. Air
Rescue aircraft ill-suited for deep penetration into enemy airspace. Rescue planning
focused on helicopter recovery of the uninjured pilot. Planning ignored demands: to
provide medical transportation of the sick and injured; to treat casualties in-flight and
for prolonged periods; and the need for "someone" to extend beyond the confines
of machinery to adapt themselves to the physical conditions of the incident area to
provide on-site assistance.
USAF Pararescue Force structure and mission split.
One group of pararescuemen remain assigned to AFSOC to support special operations, the
remaining pararescuemen assigned to air rescue squadrons.
AFSOC advocates pararescue role as combatant that
renders emergency medical services on the battlefield. AFSOC primary provider for rescue
and recovery of isolated personnel in far forward hostile, or denied territory. Pararescue
continues to be the singular occupational specialty committed to rescuing human lives.
Combat rescue advocates pararescue role of helicopter
gunner-scanner providing: minimal medical services; limited individual combat skills;
limited flexibility to support joint operations; and limited ability to gain access and
remove the injured from the battlefield. Concept lacks redress for changes in the post
Cold War mission of the military services.
January 1993: Air Rescue Service deactivated; Air
Combat Command lead agency and proponent for Air Rescue doctrine, policy, tactics,
procedures, and acquisitions. Service authority and air rescue squadrons assigned to
Pararescue specialty now influenced by management and
administrative decisions in several commands.
Combat air forces severely limit pararescue role and
capabilities. Administrative and management infrastructure disruptive because senior
officers lack knowledge of how pararescue capabilities support the combat mission.
9 May 1993, Southwest Asia (SWA) area of operations:
Draft Concept of Operations, Pararescue Fixed Wing Tactical Operations demonstrated and
validated by a rescue mission accomplished by pararescuemen assigned to the 4404CW (P),
Six pararescuemen did a night tactical jump at 800
feet AGL from a HC-130 aircraft. An ELT emission as the only ground reference, the team
jumped using computed air release point procedures to an unmarked drop zone. Their
objective is a Saudi single seat fighter (Tornado) and its pilot that crashed hours
earlier. The team moved in tactical formation using a global positioning system (GPS)
navigational aid to establish a search pattern. After searching for thirty minutes, they
arrived at the crash site, located 200 meters from the drop zone. Unfortunately, the pilot
died upon impact. Extraction executed by surface vehicles, vectored to the crash site by
electronic means and visual signal.
3 October 1993 to 4 October 1993: United Nations
OperationsSomalia, Joint Service CSAR specialty team. In connection with
military operations against an opposing armed force in Mogadishu, Somalia, 24th Special
Tactics Squadron pararescuemen were directed, to a situation where an assault helicopter
had been downed in a congested urban area. After fast roping from a helicopter and
assaulting through heavy enemy small arms fire from three directions, the pararescuemen
established a casualty collection point and made their way to the wreckage to conduct an
assessment, provide emergency medical treatment to the survivors, and to extract all on
board. While freeing these survivors, a pararescueman was wounded and sent to the ground.
Ignoring the traumatic effects of the gunshot wound, he treated his own wound, and moved
back to the casualty collection point and continued to triage and treat the survivors of
the crash. At this time a Ranger element 45 meters from their location was engaged and
were suffering casualties in an intense fire fight. A pararescueman, on his own
initiative, broke cover and ran through a thick barrage of small arms fire, shrapnel, and
RPGs to reach the Ranger position. Once there, he pulled the wounded one by one into the
safety of a covered position and began immediate medical treatment of the seriously
wounded Rangers. For eighteen hours these pararescuemen rendered emergency medical
services to the wounded and repeatedly took up security positions and returned fire to
suppress enemy forces.
Air Force Cross awarded to TSgt Timothy A. Wilkinson,
Pararescue Technician, the first to be awarded to an enlisted man since the SEA conflict
twenty years ago.
Silver Star and Purple Heart awarded to MSgt Scott C.
Fales, Pararescue Technician.
Progress Of Training
1941-45, World War II: Pararescue training
obtained on-the-job. No formal training provided by any military service. Previous
attempts to justify service school disapproved by the commanding officer, U.S. Army Air
Forces School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida.
U.S. Forest Service Parachute Training Center, Seeley
Lake Montana, provided advanced parachute training to meet the military services'
requirement for rescue jumpers. Principal participants: U.S. Army Air Forces; U.S. Coast
Guard; and Canadian Air Observer Schools.
In unit training based upon trial and error and
on-the-job experiences born of necessity.
Late 1943: On-going air combat experiences result in
new training programs. Principal techniques taught: modes of entry into isolated
locations; overland travel and navigation; administration of medical aid; and providing
facilities for survival and eventual rescue of distressed personnel. Enlisted personnel
required to have served in their military occupational specialty for six (6) months or
more, and to meet the physical requirements of class three, WD, AGO Form 64.
Air evacuation medical technicians (enlisted)
recruited from medical installations to undergo a basic three-week course in the elements
of field work, first aid, camouflage, and other subjects necessary to the medical soldier.
The real test comes when all strength has fled, and men must produce victory on will alone...