War on Terrorism

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Personnel recovery team lives up to its motto

by Master Sgt. Kimberley Harrison
U.S. Air Forces Central combat camera

5/28/2010 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- "These things we do, that others may live." That s the motto for the Airmen of the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron who operate and maintain Joint Base Balad's rescue helicopters.

Training exercises, conducted at both deployed locations and stateside units, are a never-ending way of life for the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron members.

"We train for a very diverse set of search methods," said Capt. Lee Kostellic, a 64th ERQS HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot. "When something actually happens, it's never going to be the perfect training scenario, so we train for multiple circumstances in order for us to have the tools available to do our job."

The squadron was once considered the largest, single combat search and rescue operation since the Vietnam War. The squadron no longer performs the traditional combat-search-and-rescue mission, which was limited to the recovery of downed aircrews from hostile territory.

"We're personnel recovery," said Maj. Jenn Reed, the 64th ERQS director of operations, "We train for the entire spectrum of personnel recovery. CSAR is just one small end of that spectrum."

Personnel recovery has become an increasingly important mission within the joint fight in both Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

"In Afghanistan we're assisting with Army medical evacuations," Captain Kostellic said. "Folks are affected by life, limb, and eyesight injuries daily and the timeliness of our response - the faster we are at what we do and the more efficient we are in what we do - can make the difference between that person surviving or dying."

The Air Force was designated by the Department of Defense as the lead military service for personnel recovery efforts.

There are approximately 48 Airmen - pilots, flight engineers, aerial gunners, pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, aviation resource management and others who make up the rescue squadron.

"We're not a large force, but we're the most highly trained in personnel recovery," Major Reed said. "If we get a call for a mission, it means someone is having a really bad day."

"The most interesting part about the personnel recovery aspect is it tasks our brains because there is always more than one way to skin that cat, Captain Kostellic said. "Sometimes the (pararescuemen) are the answer, sometimes we are the answer but the bottom line is we are here to save lives in the best way possible."

"We're in an unusual situation because we are a low-supply, high-demand asset and we're constantly deployed or preparing to deploy," Major Reed said.

The operations tempo hasn't deterred anyone's motivation and dedication because job satisfaction is second to none.

"Our mission is a noble one," Major Reed said. "When you're part of an effort that allows somebody else to go home to their family, it makes the months we spend away from our families worthwhile."

For first-time deployers, this opportunity offers a unique training experience.

"This is a very good environment to send our brand new guys," Captain Kostellic said. "They can get their feet wet and test their training because there's not a ton of missions here. That's a good thing."

"It's a great place to go on a first deployment," said Senior Airman Joseph Arriza, a 64th ERQS aerial gunner. "I'm learning a lot because I'm actually able to do my job here, so I'm learning the ropes about what an aerial gunner really does."

Job excitement seems to be constant for this personnel recovery team - from the pilots who get everyone where they need to be, the flight engineer and aerial gunner who remain alert for possible trouble, to the pararescuemen who ensure personnel are brought back where they belong, everyone has a job to do and each do it well.

"I think being an aerial gunner is the best job in the Air Force," Airman Arriza said. "It's a big responsibility because you're responsible (for) where those bullets go. You have to think about what you're doing before you do it within such a short span of time when something arises."

In addition to normal CSAR efforts, personnel-recovery teams also respond to mishaps or precautionary landings by any friendly military force, convoys isolated in hostile territory, civil search and rescue, aeromedical evacuation, non-combatant evacuation, disaster relief and international aid.

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