Rescue, teamwork go 'hand in hand'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
Each time I move to a new duty station, I try my best to understand the new wing's mission and learn what it takes to get the job done. 

I have a brother who works in the rescue community. After eight years of listening to him describe what he does for a living, I thought I knew what Moody's mission was all about -- rescue. I recently discovered I had a very narrow viewpoint. 

A recent night flight on an HC-130P Combat King allowed me to learn I couldn't have been further from the mark in my thinking that rescue was a helicopter-only show. 

A rescue is a complex beast, with many different people working together to ensure success in any environment, threat or time of day. No single rescue asset can be successful without the entire wing working as a single entity. 

An HH-60G Pave Hawk has the ability to get in and out of a small landing area with stealth and if need be, force. It's the best equipped to provide the hands-on portion of a rescue. One drawback however is it's relatively small and does not have the range of an HC-130, so it requires fuel to go deep behind enemy lines. 

Enter the HC-130. The purpose of the aircraft is like a strong pair of arms, carrying the fuel and supplies needed. With twice the speed and much more cargo capacity, it can arrive ahead of the extraction team to locate and assist downed Airmen, delivering supplies like life rafts, food and water. 

To medically treat an injured Airman, HC-130's also have the ability to deliver a team of pararescuemen and their all-terrain vehicles or an inflatable boat to secure a hostile drop zone. 

The PJ's are the fingers that actually touch the survivor. The training they undergo to perform this task is immense and like everyone else on this team, their job is vital to the mission. 

Providing close air support to the Airmen and rescuers on the ground are A-10 Thunderbolts. Just like the shark jaws painted on their noses, these jets are the rescue teams' sharp teeth. Their massive 30 mm cannon will effectively deal with any ground threat foolhardy enough to engage a weapon system purpose-built for destroying main battle tanks. 

With the survivor protected, the HC-130 can refuel incoming HH-60s and provide vital intelligence to helicopter aircrews who will be picking up the PJs and survivor. 

The training and skill required to bring all this together is something I never anticipated. The amount of preparation and professionalism underscores the huge risks these men and women take every day -- practicing and honing their craft "so others may live." 

During my HC-130 flight, we flew low-level along the contours of Tennessee's Smokey Mountains. The navigator watched his radar and forward-looking infrared scope, calling out turns to the crew that were timed down to the second. 

As we flew deeper into the valleys, the crew acted together as a single mind, speaking in cryptic acronyms and terse commands that everyone but me seemed to understand instantly. 

Later, the mission called for us to perform a helicopter aerial refueling. Our rendezvous with the helicopters occurred in pitch darkness from two opposite directions. At the same instant the helicopters crossed under us to begin refueling, we crossed over the tower used as the waypoint for the merge. The precision required to achieve such accuracy was amazing to me. 

I was told before the mission that refueling a helicopter from a dangling hose in pitch darkness is as difficult as it sounds. It's one of those operations that raises the heart rate of all the participants. 

Just watching it made me sweat. But the aircrews I witnessed performing this unnatural act made it look easy. As the mountains passed beneath us, it was easy to imagine this delicate dance being performed in Iraq, Afghanistan or over a dozen other potential hostile environments. 

Training in pitch darkness over Georgia is dangerous in its own right, but by making it look easy here, they can act with confidence when receiving the call to action. 

The impressive statistics of the combat search and rescue community speak for themselves, with hundreds rescued in the Global War on Terror and thousands saved in humanitarian missions such as Hurricane Katrina. 

By using teamwork and trusting the expertise of fellow Airmen, these CSAR professionals regularly turn extraordinary feats of heroism into "just another day at the office."