'That others may live': Gunners vital to rescue mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
HH-60G Pave Hawk crews from Moody have saved the lives of nearly 1,700 people and assisted 4,027 more down-range over the past three years. These feats would not be possible without the Airmen whose responsibility it is to protect their aircraft and wingmen.

Aerial gunners can be the difference between mission success and mission failure, and passion and proficiency help them stay true to their motto of "That others may live."

"As an aerial gunner, we are in charge of keeping the crew safe no matter what," said Airman 1st Class Henry Flores, 41st Rescue Squadron aerial gunner. "We are the weapons experts and have to know how to operate and fix them if anything goes wrong. We also do whatever it takes to protect the pararescuemen, and get them in and out safely.

"The HH-60 is a rescue platform," he added. "We go out there and put ourselves in danger to make sure our wingmen are safe. As a gunner and aircrew member, we also have to know alternate insertion and extraction methods using fast ropes, hoists, rope ladders and repels. We do whatever we have to do to get our people home."

The HH-60s at Moody are equipped with either GAU-2/A 7.62mm miniguns or M2 machine guns, and aerial gunners have to be proficient on both.

With such a vital mission, aerial gunners deploy quickly and often in support of missions all around the world. Senior Airman Kevin Holland, 41st RQS aerial gunner, recently returned from a deployment and is about to deploy again for one year to train Afghan aircrews.

"It can be hard, especially on married guys because of the constant deployments," he said. "We usually spend four months home and four months deployed."

Flores, who has a wife and a 7-month-old daughter, agrees the deployments can be a challenge.

"The hardest part of our job is the constant deploying," said Flores. "We deploy often and quickly. It can also be difficult to deal with the fact that we put ourselves in harm's way while knowing we have a family back home."

Despite the challenges and hardships they face, Flores said everyone finds ways to cope.

"Everyone has their ways to connect them to home," he said. "When deployed I always have a picture of my daughter in my left pocket, over my heart.

"In a situation when something went wrong or is going wrong, it helps to have something that reminds us of why we do it," he added as he looked down at a bracelet with the words "Pedro 66" written on it in remembrance of the five Airmen who lost their lives in a helicopter crash June 9, 2010 during a mission to pick up a wounded British marine in southern Afghanistan.

Aerial gunners are some of a select few of enlisted Airmen who are on flying status, and many enjoy this unique aspect of their job. To achieve this status, HH-60 aerial gunners go through four different courses including aircrew fundamentals and survival, evasion, resistance and escape school.

Once at their first assignment they continue to fly two to three times a week to maintain their qualifications.

"I absolutely love my job," said Flores. "I feel like I'm the luckiest airman first class in the Air Force. I get to fly and bring our wingmen home safe. The best part is just being in the air and helping people.

"We are a small and close community," he added. "We all have a lot of respect for the people who came before us and the ones who come after. It makes it a lot easier to do a hard job when you're around good people."

HH-60 aerial gunners are warriors who stand ready to perform their mission, whether it's picking up a lost hiker or bringing a wounded pilot home to his family.

Wherever the United States military goes, there will be HH-60s and aerial gunners to ensure that everyone comes home safely.