Ex-commando inspires youth for special operations

Ex-commando inspires youth for special operations

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Arnold T. Stocker, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) in Broward County, Florida, has served in the military for more than 40 years and operates South Florida Tactical Athletes, a preparatory school for those wishing to join the most coveted jobs the U.S. military has to offer. During his military career, Stocker has completed two special operation duties as a former Army Special Forces medical sergeant (with combat diver certification) and Air Force Pararescueman. Regardless of branch of service, special operation programs have a high standard of acceptance and a passing rate of lower than 10 percent. According to Stocker, thousands will try out, a hundred will get chosen for selection training and less than 10 will graduate. “To come to our program takes a lot of guts, dedication and motivation,” Stocker said. “We get men and women who are a cut above the rest; many of them are former athletes who think they are in great shape, but it’s not about being the fastest or strongest. It’s about expanding your circle of comfort and your mind, developing as a young adult and learning to work as a team.” Four days a week Stocker and four other instructors, a former pararescueman, a Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer, and two Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance members, coach more than 20 men and women in running, swimming, water confidence, and team building exercises for two to three hours. Each week participants spend two days in the water and two days on land. They also participate in one extended training session a month on the weekend. The training includes warming up, calisthenics, underwater tasks, rucksack marching, sprinting, working together and listening to directions. “Each day is different and when people come to our program, we brief them beforehand but they don’t really know what to expect,” Stocker said. “We provide them with a challenge and we focus on proper form and technique; with that comes the speed.” Stocker envisioned SFTA to be the beginning step for future special operations men and women who will one day lead the nation’s defenses. So far, the program has trained more than 100 men and women since 2012, but Stocker’s journey training others to follow in his footsteps started 6 years prior. While visiting his home state of Pennsylvania, a friend told Stocker that his son would like to become a pararescueman. “He’s the first guy I can say I prepared to become a PJ (pararescueman),” Stocker said. “It’s an awesome feeling for me and every one of the instructors at SFTA, when one of ours makes it through selection. We aren’t just giving them a physical challenge, we are setting them up for the rest of their lives.” Stocker is versed in special operations, but his military journey began in the Air Force as a jet engine mechanic and then he later joined an aeromedical evacuation team on C-141 Starlifter aircraft. He wanted to join the pararescue career field, the military’s combat-search-and-rescue tip of the spear, but didn’t know how to swim. He hired a swim coach to learn stroke techniques and was later sent to the pararescue indoctrination course. “I failed the swim.” Stocker said. “I do (SFTA) because when I was training there was no program around. I told my swim instructor what I wanted to do and he had no idea about water confidence training. I also do it because I enjoy training and mentoring.” Today as a traditional reservist, Stocker oversees patient triage from aircraft to hospital and acts as a patient’s advocate while confirming patients are kept in stable conditions before the next echelon of care. He has two daughters and says the greatest challenge has been juggling his family, anesthesia profession, his reserve duty and SFTA. He couldn’t do it without the help of his instructors and his love for helping others. One other SFTA instructor who works with Stocker, former pararescueman Mike Mahoney, said he also does this job for the enjoyment of developing young adults into great men and women. “Just the other day I had one of those moments when I saw a guy swimming and I thought to myself, wow that’s good form,” Mahoney said. “I wanted to know who that person was, and it turned out to be one of our students who came to us not knowing how to swim. Now he’s working as a lifeguard and wants to become a pararescueman.” Leo Fernandez, one of the participants who joined SFTA not knowing how to swim said Stocker and the coaches have changed his life, both physically and mentally. “I can honestly say I would not have stood a chance in selection without Colonel Stocker,” Fernandez said. “He has worked with me on my swims and has taught me how to get out[…]

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Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman, Remembered at Camp Cunningham

MoH Recipient John Chapman, Remembered at Camp Cunningham

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Personnel from Bagram Airfield and the Special Operations community gathered at the Memorial Courtyard at Camp Cunningham to recognize Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John A. Chapman. During the Medal of Honor commemoration ceremony, Airman from the 26th Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron (ESTS) remembered the courage and valor Chapman displayed high on a mountaintop in the eastern highlands of Afghanistan, approximately 130 miles from Bagram Airfield. “He died on that mountain top, not in vain but while rescuing a teammate and protecting a helicopter full of men he had never met,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chaz, a special tactics airman deployed to Bagram. “John Chapman died as he said in high school, ‘putting others ahead of himself,’ and was a living and breathing example of the Special Tactics motto, ‘First There….That Others May Live’.” For his heroic actions during the Battle of Takur Ghar, Chapman was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on January 10, 2003, and last Wednesday, President Trump presented the Medal of Honor to Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, in a White House ceremony. “Master Sgt. Chapman’s actions on Takur Ghar Mountain were extraordinary,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Buck Elton, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan commanding general. “Advances in technology and years of hard work by many Special Tactics Airmen have allowed us to more fully understand the brutal battle. We can now see how Chappy bravely attacked al-Qaeda, continued to fight after being wounded and ultimately died protecting his teammates.” Chapman, who “distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism” is the first Special Tactics Airman to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the first Airman since the Vietnam War to receive the nation’s highest award for valor. “His courage, skill and willingness to give his life so that others may live have long-earned the deep respect of joint special operations forces,” said Elton. “We are grateful and proud President Trump awarded him the Medal of Honor and presented it to his wife and daughters.” With a backdrop of a mural painted to forever immortalize Chapman’s legacy, the ceremony concluded with the 26th Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron leading the crowd in memorial push-ups as they paid tribute to a fallen warrior, an Airman and an American Hero. Established in 2009, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan is a U.S.-led mission that directs and enables U.S. military operations in support of Resolute Support, NATO’s train, advise and assist mission. Its purpose is to sustain campaign momentum in Afghanistan. It is also tasked with executing responsibilities and oversight for manpower, material and logistics, basing and operational movement in the country, supporting a responsible economic transition that encourages a resilient Afghan economy. BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN 08.29.2018 Story by Capt. Chelsi Johnson  455th Air Expeditionary Wing   //ENDS// This story is embedded from DVIDS

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133. Thailand Cave Rescue Part 1

Operation Wild Boar, the mission to rescue 12 Thai children on a soccer team and their coach captured the world's attention this summer. Derek, ST PJ and Team Leader on the mission, describes the mission drop, prep and on scene arrival. This is the first of several podcasts by Derek describing the mission and PJs'… Read more
Medal of Honor presented to TSgt John Chapman’s family

Medal of Honor presented to TSgt John Chapman’s family

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — On what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, accepted his Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump during a ceremony at the White House Aug. 22. “We are gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen warrior, a great warrior…and to award him with our nation’s highest and most revered military honor,” Trump said. Fighting in the early morning hours through brisk air and deep snow, Chapman sacrificed his own life to preserve the lives of his teammates during the Battle of Taku Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002. “[John] would want to recognize the other men who lost their lives,” Valerie said in a previous interview. “Even though he did something he was awarded the Medal of Honor for, he would not want the other guys to be forgotten – they were part of the team together. I think he would say his Medal of Honor was not just for him, but for all of the guys who were lost.” Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, following a review of the Air Force Cross and Silver Star recipients directed by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Deborah James, then-Secretary of the Air Force, recommended Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. “John was always selfless – it didn’t just emerge at Taku Ghar – he had always been selfless and highly competent, and thank God for all those qualities,” retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time of the battle, said in a previous interview. “He could have hunkered down in the bunker and waited for the (Quick Reaction Force) and (Combat Search and Rescue) team to come in, but he assessed the situation and selflessly gave his life for them.” Chapman enlisted in the Air Force Sept. 27, 1985, as an information systems operator, but felt called to be part of Air Force special operations. In 1989, he cross-trained to become an Air Force combat controller. According to friends and family, Chapman had a tendency to make the difficult look effortless and consistently sought new challenges. Dating back to his high school days, he made the varsity soccer squad as a freshman. In his high school yearbook, Chapman quoted these words: “Give of yourself before taking of someone else.” Chapman looked for a new challenge, which he found in combat control. This special operations training is more than two years long and amongst the most rigorous in the U.S. military; only about one in 10 Airmen who start the program graduate. From months of intense training to multiple joint schools – including military SCUBA, Army static-line and freefall, air traffic control, and combat control schools – Chapman is remembered as someone who could overcome any adversity. “One remembers two types of students – the sharp ones and the really dull ones – and Chapman was in the sharp category,” said Ron Childress, a former Combat Control School instructor. “During one of his first days at Combat Control School, I noticed a slight smirk on his face like [the training] was too simple for him…and it was.” Following Combat Control School, Chapman served with the 1721st Combat Control Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he met Valerie in 1992. They had two daughters, who were the center of Chapman’s world even when he was away from home – which was common in special operations. “He would come home from a long trip and immediately have on his father hat – feeding, bathing, reading and getting his girls ready for bed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael West, who served with Chapman through Combat Control School, a three-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and at Pope AFB. “They were his life and he was proud of them. To the Air Force he was a great hero…what I saw was a great father.” The Battle of Takur Ghar In conjunction with Operation Anaconda in March 2002, small reconnaissance teams were tasked to establish observation posts in strategic locations in Afghanistan, and when able, direct U.S. airpower to destroy enemy targets. The mountain of Takur Ghar was an ideal spot for such an observation post, with excellent visibility to key locations. For Chapman and his joint special operations teammates, the mission on the night of March 3 was to establish a reconnaissance position on Takur Ghar and report al-Qaida movement in the Sahi-Kowt area. “This was a very high profile, no-fail job, and we picked John,” said retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time. “In a very high-caliber career field, with the highest quality of men – even then – John stood out as our guy.” During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur[…]

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AF Recruiters Learn About Innovations for Next-Gen Special Ops Airmen

//From Defense.gov// For the first time in the Defense Department, a series of career field specialties is using human performance monitoring and a data collection system, as well as specialized recruiters. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Jette undergoes a body composition measurement test at the 350th Battlefield Airman Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas June 28, 2018. Jette is a special operations recruiter based in Fresno, Calif. DoD photo by EJ Hersom Because of high attrition rates in its special operations career fields — pararescue, combat controller, tactical air control party and special operations weather technicians — the Air Force stood up the 350th Battlefield Airman Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, and the 330th Recruiting Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas. Recruiters also focus on the special operations support career fields: survival, evasion and resistance and explosive ordnance disposal. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Josh Smith, the special warfare preparatory course superintendent for the 350th BATS, has been a pararescueman, or PJ, for 25 years. He said his team was tasked to stand up the squadron within 121 days. They shadowed the Army’s and Navy’s special operations programs and used their best practices to model this new program, he said. The team received “amazing support” from Naval Special Warfare at Great Lakes Naval Training Command in Illinois, Smith said. “And we’re using the same contract for our coaches, so some of their staff could help us set up the program here,” he added. “It’s been an amazing partnership between the two organizations.” Pilot Course On June 5, 2017, the first battlefield airmen preparatory pilot course ran through its first eight-week iteration. Smith said the course’s goal is to “create a program focused on creating that fitter, faster, stronger, more mentally resilient warfighter.” He said one area the Navy would like to increase training on is psychology. “We really try to focus on that communication, team building, the character tributes of leader, integrity, professionalism, trainability and teaching them how to improve in those areas,” Smith said. “This generation knows how to text, but they need to work on communication.” Smith said the team was tasked to improve production by 10 percent, but were able to improve it by 20 percent overall. They were able to eliminate the two-week pararescue development course, and tactical air control party candidates went from a 30 percent graduation rate to 66 percent. Air Force Maj. Heath Kerns, 330th Recruiting Squadron commander and a special tactics officer, said the squadron pulled recruiters from 27 different squadrons across the Air Force who showed an aptitude and interest as well as other qualifications to head up this new squadron, specializing in recruiting for the three Air Force special forces career fields and its support career fields. “Instead of worrying about 160 jobs, [our battlefield airmen recruiters] can get really smart on six jobs,” Kerns said. The Air Force has learned that potential special operations recruits are not motivated in the same ways as recruits from the larger force, he explained. “They don’t care about the benefits or the money. They care about the challenge,” Kerns said. “I wanted to know, ‘What’s the hardest thing in the world I could do?’ I wanted to become the most elite [and] challenge myself in the worst ways possible,” he said of his own motivation. Kerns said the recruiters’ mission is to scout, develop and guide the future warriors for their combat calling. With this new program, the recruiters work hand-in-hand with the squadron ahead of time and have developers, retired operators, who will work with the recruits to make sure they can pass the physical training test and be ready for battlefield airmen prep before arrival. Recruiter Training To help recruiters understand what the course is like, about 90 of them attended a one-week version of the course, June 25-29. “This week has been excellent training. Simple things like you normally swim with goggles, but now you have a face mask fogging up, and your nose isn’t used to having dead space, so it’s trying to breathe in but it’s not [able to],” Kerns said. “We can now absolutely understand that even though my applicant passed the test well in a different environment, he may show up here and freak out and his score may look bad. We understand the process now because we’ve lived it. It’s going to change the way our recruiters go back and work with the candidates.” He said having the partnership with the active-duty community has also been helpful. “I reach out to my brothers and tell them, ‘If you want me to replace you with quality people, I need you to provide these things.’ It’s been a great partnership,” Kerns said. A computer displays up to 300 data points monitoring[…]

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Special-Operator Trainers Outline Evolution of the Battlefront Airman

From Defense.gov Candidates training to be special operators evolve to the enemy that’s developing by adapting and trying to overcome it, two Air Force special-operator trainers said yesterday at the Pentagon in the Defense Department’s “Showcasing Lethality” briefing series. “From the battlefront and the training enterprise, from our standpoint, we are the foundation of what builds our battlefront airmen, to include our combat control operators, our pararescuemen, our [tactical air control party] operators and our special operations,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr., superintendent of standards and evaluations for Air Education and Training Command’s Battlefield Airmen Training Group, at Joint Base-San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. He and Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas J. Gunnell, a tactical air control party craftsman assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, provide some of the most rigorous training that goes into being a battlefield airman. “We try to basically build individuals that would never quit, [and] get them through arguably some of the hardest DoD training that’s out there,” Gutierrez said of the mostly junior-enlisted candidates, many of whom are right out of high school. While the two trainers said their attrition rate used to be up toward 80 percent and 90 percent, it’s now closer to 69 percent. “It’s still pretty rough, and it’s extensive and hard,” Gunnell said of the selection and training processes. Changes in Training “How we have come to this point is honestly through innovation and change,” he said, noting implementation of courses, such as an eight-week pilot program called the Battlefront Airmen Preparatory Course, which has added to changes in training. “We are making individuals that come through from [basic military training] fitter, faster, stronger and more mentally resilient,” Gunnell said, “[while we] familiarize them with the training and the types of environments we’re going to put them in.” Gutierrez emphasized how the jobs that result from the intense training involve huge responsibilities. “In some instances,” Gutierrez said, “they’re E-4s [or] E-5s controlling million-dollar aircraft, [and they] are responsible for lives and making the right moral and ethical decisions on the battlefield.” Yet, the trainers don’t just build war fighters — they build responsible noncommissioned officers and train them to go out and “do the fight,” Gutierrez said. “We’re building the best candidates out there in the world,” he added. They agreed that today’s technology, which produced equipment such as unmanned aircraft and sophisticated munitions has taken training a long way in recent years. Full-on Operators Gunnell said trainers must turn candidates into “full-on operators” for the operational force because they’re essential in light of the operations tempo made necessary by numerous global threats. Training is now more science-based, with strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers and even physical therapists, he noted. “We have operations psychologists that are sitting there watching and assessing these candidates to make sure we are taking the right individual that’s going to make the right decision when it’s needed,” he said. Emphasizing that safety is their No. 1 concern, the trainers said they prepare candidates in all environments to meet the needs of building a fitter, faster, stronger and mentally resilient airman to support any given effort. Gunnell said today’s candidates are “amazing” in their physical and mental abilities. “We’re not getting the same guys, probably, that [Gutierrez] and I were when we first came in,” he said. “The [people] we’re getting now are stronger and smarter. Their aptitude levels are just unreal. “It’s awesome to see them grow from young airmen,” said he continued. “We put them out on the battlefield … in Afghanistan and Iraq, everywhere all over the world, and they just take it and come back with a little experience. They get a little confidence, and then we’re able to grow a little bit further. I teach them so much based off what I’ve learned. But then they come back with that experience. They teach the next crop of guys coming in.” Training special operations candidates is becoming more lethal, Gunnell said, drawing on experience from war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We’ve been doing this for 17 years now, and it’s helped us grow the nation’s young people and [produce] some incredible individuals.” //ENDS//

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Training so others may live

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE , WA, UNITED STATES 06.29.2018 Story by Senior Airman Sean Campbell  92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs   Air Force Pararescuemen are the only elite, American task force with direct focus and training to provide full-spectrum personnel recovery operations in conventional and unconventional warfare.  Recently, PJs assigned to the 68th Rescue Squadron out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, spent three days at Fairchild Air Force Base training with 36th RQS to get familiarized with the UN-H1 Huey airframe. “On the first day, we started with land alternate insurgent and extraction methods,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Peters, 68th RQS pararescueman training instructor. “This included fast rope, rappel and hoist work.” During the second day, the PJs conducted water operations from the Hueys. Low and slow freefall swimmers jumped into water and fast-roped to save patients from the water. The integration of the Huey and PJs are needed for the teams to communicate with each other while they are on location. For the last day of training they executed an isolated personnel operation from start to finish. “Pararescuemen started with flying out to the location and identifying the patient on the ground,” said Peters. Then they lower themselves to the destination with a fast rope to make contact with the person on the ground. Once contact is made, they PJs perform any medical attention the patients require on the way to the hospital. The 68th RQS is the formal training unit for the Air Force’s Guardian Angel Weapon System, training PJs and combat rescue officers. The 68th RQS helps PJs and CROs meet combat capability requirements and enhances integration with joint combat forces by providing advanced skill upgrades and proficiency training. “This training is a huge part of getting Airmen to be mission qualified PJs,” said Peters. “This is a huge part of the upgrade that they need to work in the areas of operation we are currently in.” Fairchild is a beneficial location to train due to its unique training areas that are close to different landing locations. This allows the helicopter to conduct more repetitions of the training exercises. “There are a lot of high altitude training areas as well as a close-water support area and it’s simply a fantastic training area,” said Peters. PJs start out their training with a selection course at Joint-Base San Antonio, Texas. Before the trainees can attend their apprentice course, they must complete dive school, survival school, emergency medical technician basic and a paramedic course. From there, they go to the apprentice course which is a six-month school where they cover all of the basics of being a pararescuemen. The training at Fairchild is part of a seven-week course that allows the certified PJs to deploy down range. This training is provided to PJs so they can do the best possible job in helping Americans return home safely. Their mantra, “That Others May Live,” is not taken lightly by these trained professionals who, at a moment’s notice, would run toward the gunfire to rescue their comrades. //ENDS// Story extracted from DVIDS For more operator stories like this, click HERE

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