Special missions aviators vital to rescue mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ceaira Tinsley
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
An Airman reached for his machine gun and fired. Nothing. Click. Nothing. It had malfunctioned and they were rapidly approaching enemy territory. With incoming enemy fire, something had to be done so the pilot maneuvered the helicopter so the working gun was facing the enemy. They survived this time. That is why the preflight inspections done by special missions aviators are important because they check and double check the aircraft.

It's moments like this that make the job of special missions aviators so vital.

Last year the Air Force merged the aerial gunner and flight engineer career fields to create special missions aviators giving Airmen a well rounded understanding of two out of four crew positions aboard the aircraft.

Aerial gunners were responsible for operating airborne weapon systems and associated equipment while also performing in-flight maintenance as necessary. Flight engineers conducted preflight inspections and operated and monitored engine and aircraft systems.

Instead of having an aerial gunner and a flight engineer on board the helicopter, there is now one person who is fully knowledgeable on all the aircraft and weapons systems, said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Russell Hunt, 41st Rescue Squadron NCO in charge of weapons tactics. The two career fields were closely related so it makes sense to have them interchangeable in the back, Hunt explained.

Not only are the career fields similar, but the merger also allows more aircrew flexibility onboard the HH-60G Pave Hawk.

"It makes it easier to schedule deployments and much easier to swap crew members," said Hunt, who was an aerial gunner prior to the merger. "We both know everything so we can back each other up and combine our skills and knowledge."

Special missions aviators are primarily behind-the-scenes, performing preflight checks, manning the gun and ensuring the safety of passengers and equipment. Under the rescue umbrella, their motto "That others may live" gives meaning to what they truly do.

"In general, when you get a call for a mission, the feeling that you have running out of the door not knowing exactly what you're getting yourself into but just knowing that somebody needs to be picked up is indescribable," said Staff Sgt. Jay Bossy, 41st Rescue Squadron special missions aviator."That feeling of sprinting to the aircraft ... is always the same but I've never felt that at any other time in my life."

Along with the unique feeling the career field brings Bossy, it allowed some of Moody's enlisted Airmen to play a part in rescuing 239 lives in the last few months.

"The best part about the job is really how rewarding it is when you're deployed and you can make those pickups and you make those saves," said Hunt, who has deployed once since being stationed at Moody. "You get the critically injured people back to the hospital and ... in Afghanistan we were the asset that could do that the quickest."

Special missions aviator is unique to the enlisted force because they are required to undergo extensive training while simultaneously making split second decisions.

In order to become a certified special missions aviator, Airmen must complete numerous training programs to include: aircrew fundamentals, rotary fundamentals, basic survival school, water survival school, initial qualification school and mission qualification training. In addition to these training programs they must also maintain their flying status by flying two to three times per week.

"It means that everything we do is focused on saving others," said Hunt. "It means that we are willing to do whatever it takes to bring somebody home, anybody home. We train, we study, and we live by that dedication."

Special missions aviators rely on one another's knowledge and teamwork to complete the mission of the HH-60.

"It is a four-man crew, so without one you're not flying," said Bossy.

Since the merger, the enlisted Airmen definitely work together more frequently and seem to be on the same sheet of music further aiding the mission, said 1st Lt. William Misenzhal, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot. It puts the enlisted Airmen aboard the HH-60 on the same knowledge base.

Being proficient in the different weapon systems on the HH-60 is critical to the flying mission because special missions aviators are expected to be able to man the weapon, scan for enemies, and fix the weapons in the event of a malfunction.

"We currently fly with two weapons systems; we have the GAU-18, which is a .50-caliber machine gun that is primarily what we used when deployed," said Hunt. "We also train with a GAU-2 which is a 7.62mm mini gun."

Similarly to their pararescuemen counterparts, they often face obstacles that are more technical than physical.

"It's definitely more mentally challenging than physically challenging," Hunt added. "There is a ton of knowledge that you have to have in your head and you don't have time to reference a book. You have one chance to do something right and make a decision."

While most career fields in the Air Force spend their time on the ground aiding the overall mission, special missions aviators at Moody do their part assisting in rescuing those down below from nearly 300 feet in the air.

Regardless of where HH-60s may go, there will be special missions aviators there to do their part in saving lives.