Skip to comments.Balad squadron serves as Iraq's 'guardian angels'
Posted on 04/23/2009 4:58:34 PM PDT by SandRat
4/22/2009 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- Coalition military members in Iraq have plenty of equipment, tactics and techniques at their disposal in the event of a worst-case scenario in the field. However, if those safeguards fail, a team of operators from the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron is standing by, ready to help.
"Our primary mission is personnel recovery," said Maj. Kevin Lehnerd, a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter pilot from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., assigned to the squadron. "Our role provides pilots and people on the ground a sense of security when they are accomplishing their missions."
If a downed pilot, a stranded convoy or any other serivicemember operating in dangerous territory needs to be rescued or aided as soon as possible, the 64th ERQS Airmen are trained and ready to bring them to safety.
The squadron consists of HH-60 Pave Hawk aircrew members, Guardian Angel weapons system personnel, a helicopter maintenance unit and associated support functions. The squadron is tasked directly through the Joint Personnel Recovery Center located at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Southwest Asia.
One of the unit's most significant assets is the Pave Hawk, which is based on the more recognized U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk, but features advanced navigational systems, improved avionics and the ability to refuel in mid-air, Major Lehnerd said.
In addition to the squadron's blend of helicopter operations and maintenance capabilities are its pararescue Airmen. Known as "PJs," they bring to the theater a unique blend of combat search and rescue skills that are meticulously honed through countless hours of preparation, both at home station and while deployed.
For a rescue squadron, every location can offer a different mission scope and set of challenges.
Members of the unit have not only been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions, but also have supported domestic operations such as recovery of civilians during Hurricanes Ike and Katrina, Major Lehnerd said.
Before deploying to Iraq, Staff Sgt. Ivan Eggel, a PJ deployed from Kadena Air Base in Japan, was also part of an operation where a Panamanian freighter at sea several thousand miles away from Japan reported two critical injuries. Sergeant Eggel and his team were transported near the ship by an MC-130 Combat Talon. Then they performed a free-fall night dive into the ocean and used inflatable boats to get to the ship where they provided care to the injured mariners for more than 30 hours until the ship was close enough for them to be airlifted to Andersen Air Base, Guam, by Navy helicopters.
Given the unique nature of the mission for the squadron while in Iraq, every opportunity to train for the 64th ERQS Airmen is not taken lightly.
"We train together and we got all spun-up before we got here," Sergeant Eggel said. "Some of us have been working together for longer than two years and we work well together."
During a recent exercise, a team consisting of two HH-60Gs and their PJ teams flew a mission in Baghdad to practice infiltration techniques. During the exercise, the helicopters drew close to several buildings to allow the PJs to fast-rope from the choppers to the rooftops and ground below and tactically secure the area so they could practice hoisting recovered personnel back up into the helicopters. The pilots maintained their positions while the gunners provided overwatch security with their .50-caliber weapons.
Though the whole operation did not last more than an hour, the mission pre-brief details were choreographed down to how much rope would be needed for the planned 75-foot rappels.
Ensuring the unit stays ready for the personnel recovery mission is a challenge as soon as a rescue squadron arrives in the theater, said Lt. Col. Thomas Kunkel, 64th ERQS commander. The teams train at a high pace to prepare for a variety of operations when they are not deployed and making sure the team's skills remain razor sharp by training while serving in a combat environment is a constant challenge, he added.
Two days later, the PJs held an additional training session at Joint Base Balad where the team treated a simulated casualty while focusing on keeping the area's perimeter secure and ensuring the extraction procedure went smoothly.
"We're medics first," said Senior Airman Matthew Street, also deployed from Kadena and a native of Great Falls, Mont. "We always incorporate a medical portion into our training."
The exercise focused on the team providing aid to a simulated survivor, where the team provided security while Airman Street and another PJ treated the victim's broken arm and leg. Adding splints, checking blood pressure and moving the victim to a litter, the PJs were able to swiftly extract their patient from the exercise area under the watchful eye of the team leader and combat rescue officer.
"Helping people gives us a good feeling, it's why a lot of people sign up for this job," Sergeant Eggel said. "I like to do hands-on stuff (like this) and this job definitely provides that opportunity."
The constant training is critical as the PJs are tasked to operate in a variety of environments, each with their own challenges.
However, always staying ready and ensuring they fulfill the PJ motto "That others may live," provides satisfaction for the squadron's Airmen.
"This is a cool job," Airman Street said. "I've always enjoyed helping people and this allows me to do that."
A pararescueman fast ropes from an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to join a team member in a proficiency exercise April 10 outside of Baghdad, Iraq. They are assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.)
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.