When a solder is down and time is running out in Afghanistan and combat areas around the world, an elite unit of Air Force rescue military men risk their own lives to rescue those injured and clinging to life. These Pararescuemen (PJs) and their leaders, the combat rescue officers, fly their Pave Hawk choppers into the heat of battle, often facing unseen enemy threats to save the critically wounded. Bullz-Eye.com was invited recently to Moody Air Force base in Valdosta, Georgia, to meet these elite forces and see them in action as they trained.
The National Geographic Channel, who we recently showcased with their remarkable house demolition scavenger hunt show “Bid and Destroy,” now has launched a spellbinding and unique six-part documentary series on the Air Force PJs and their heroism, “Inside Combat Rescue,” premiering Monday, February 18th at 10pm EST. Nat Geo Channel was embedded with PJs on a four-month deployment, with ground breaking access to front line rescue missions via “Go – Pro” mini HD cameras, allowing viewers unreal “fly on the wall” viewpoints of the most dangerous medic combat rescue missions in the world. The modified for rescue Black Hawk attack helicopters, the “Pave Hawks,” were fitted out with over a forty of these unobtrusive cameras, along with helmet mounted units on the PJ’s themselves, giving gripping and hair raising perspectives never before seen on these dangerous and graphic rescues.
The folks at Nat Geo Channel arranged a visit to the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia so we could meet the actual PJs and Combat Officers from the show fresh back from their four-month deployment in Afghanistan. Moody is the home of the 38th Rescue Squadron of the US Air Force, as seen on “Inside Combat Rescue,” and we got a first-hand look at all the equipment and got an up-close look at their training methods, including some hands-on action as well. We saw demonstrations of rescue techniques, some of which were developed in the aftermath of Somalia, with this writer being offered the unique opportunity to operate the “Jaws of Life,” assisting on a wounded personnel extraction from a car as you can see in the photos above. This was the “manual” version of this tool and it was quite the work out! Soon we had this Buick opened up like a can of tuna, thereby assisting in this quick simulated rescue exercise.
Next we went off to the hanger of the 38th Rescue Squadron, where we got an up-close look at the rescue equipment and the impressive triad of aircraft used to support the rescue of individuals in combat zones. These included the aforementioned HH-60G Pave Hawk chopper, the HC-130 refueling jumbo aircraft, and the all menacing A-10C single seat assault jet fighter. Each has a specific role, allowing virtual unlimited range for rescue via airborne refueling, as well as air support to “subdue” hostile ground fire to the Pave Hawk in route to rescue. The Pave Hawk is no kitten though for that matter, mounted each side with either twin 50 caliber machine guns, with optional armor piercing rounds, or 30 calibur “Gatling” guns to give rapid fire response to ground to air attacks. Rules of combat state that the mission of the PJs is rescue, not offensive assault, but if they draw fire, they can and will defend their rescue mission. This editor was impressed not only with the amazing Pave Hawk, but also the outrageous firepower of the A- 10, its forward turret gun capable of firing 70 rounds a second of hand grenade-like explosive rounds in an area of 20 x 20 yards, with deadly accuracy.
During informal chats that afternoon, the PJs and combat officers offered fascinating insight into their lives, both “ down range” in the combat zones they’re deployed in for rescue operations, but also with life at home and their remarkable modesty regarding what they do and how they psychologically adapt to both worlds. The bonds they’ve develop within the unit, as well as their tightly knit domestic family life, help them deal and cope with these two extremes in two distinctly different parts of the world. Afterward we broke to have lunch with leadership command of the 23th Wing, including great combat rescue insight and discussions with Vice Commander Steven Ramer.
Soon it was time for the Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) training exercise at the Grand Bay Bombing Range. With over 12,000 acres of land this is one big AFB, and it was here that we saw a remarkable training demo involving a simulated rescue of downed personnel, including search, ground cover by the A-10, a Pave Hawk extraction and a refueling demo. Watching it all in action and with perfect coordination was amazing to put it mildly.
Afterwards, we departed for a thorough base tour, viewing extensive upgrades and base modernizations for miles. After a break, we headed for the Fuels Barn hanger for the premiere of “Inside Combat Rescue,” with several hundred military members and family from the 347th rescue group in attendance. It was remarkable to watch this premiere on a huge projection system, and to be with the dedicated men and women of the 347th, all of whom make these rescues possible. It was a humbling experience to say the least.
This program shows some of the most gripping, never before seen combat rescue footage ever caught on camera. It is real, visceral, graphic and thrilling. The production quality, pace and scope of this series are all truly impressive, all superbly executed by series producer Jared McGillard. It gives a very realistic impression of what it sounds, looks and feels like to be deep behind enemy lines saving a special forces or civilian or allied member from injuries or certain death. Ground breaking Go – Pro cameras catch every angle in flight, to the landing and back, along with the bullets, the surface to air attacks, the confusion on the ground and the graphic life threatening wounds these PJ’s are trained to stabilize in flight. You can explore the personalities and dedication of each PJ or officer profiled per episode, seeing how they balance there lives of complete calm and then adrenaline rushing rescues day in and day out. Look for this show to earn some awards – it’s that good.
A special Bullz-Eye thanks goes out to the great support and help from the Public Affairs Office for the 23rd Wing of the US Air Force, Moody AFB, including 1lt Meredith Kirchoff and 1lt Cara Bousie. Thanks must also go out to the awesome staff of Nat Geo Channel.
Tags: Air Force, Air Force PJs, Black Hawk attack helicopters, combat rescue officers, Combat Search And Rescue, helicopters, Inside Combat Rescue, Jaws of Life, Moody Air Force Base, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Channel, National Geographic Channel, Pararescuemen, Pave Hawk choppers, Pave Hawk helicopters, PJs, rescue missions