News: From crew chiefs to PJ’s – team effort saves lives
Story by Senior Airman Kayla Newman
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Airmen assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron begin their day at Bagram Air Field by conducting routine checks of their HH-60G Pave Hawk’s, going through refresher lifesaving trainings or staying on top of their physical fitness.
A day that may seem slow can quickly turn into controlled chaos as a real world mission can drop at a seconds notice.
“When a mission drops, that’s when things can get a little hectic,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Ryan, 83rd ERQS director of operations.
Once an alert is called in, everyone from maintainers, pilots and pararescuemen begin to scramble to the aircraft. Getting the aircraft into the air as fast as possible is vital, and takes the whole team to get it done.
“When we receive a mission, there is a sense of adrenaline,” explained Ryan. “We train for this and we know what to expect and what to do, which allows us to do our best every time.”
Accomplishing the mission of combat search, rescue and recovery could not be achieved unless the Pave Hawk performs to the best of its abilities, despite the tough terrain during missions.
The altitude of Afghanistan affects the Pave Hawk’s capabilities, according to Master Sgt. Travis Willingham, 83rd ERQS special mission aviator.
“The aircraft is prepared for the limitations though,” explained Ryan. “We have the right crew mix of engineers and gunners, who let us know where we go and what we do.”
So while taking into account the dangers of small arms fire and aircraft limitations, Willingham is responsible for running numbers as far as altitude, number of individuals on board and the weight of the aircraft, to ensure the team safely makes it into the landing zone.
In the air, situational awareness is a term that the rescue teams use often.
“Knowing what’s going on, where the other helicopter is, where the threat is at and where the PJ’s are on the ground are all things we take into consideration,” said Willingham. “Situational awareness is a term we use a lot and is a key component to our job.”
That situational awareness and vigilance allows the team to accomplish the mission and bring everyone back to base safely.
“As a team, we have saved a lot of lives,” said Willingham. “It has been the highlight of my career, to deploy with a rescue unit and contribute to the mission.”
The one thing that each member of the rescue team continues to reiterate is that individually, the mission could not be completed.
“It takes all personnel assigned to provide an effective fighting force for 24-hours of coverage,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Wright, 83rd ERQS pararescueman.
Although they are not flying on the aircraft themselves, the Pave Hawk’s crew chiefs are also instrumental to mission accomplishment.
When a mission drops, crew chiefs are the first to sprint out to the aircraft and get it untied, helping make sure the team can be in the air within 10 minutes.
“Being out here, being a part of the big team with the operations has been the best part of my career,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Peterson, HH-60G Pave Hawk crew chief. “It feels awesome to be part of the big picture; the mission couldn’t go on without all of us.”
“That others may live” is more than a saying, it is what the members of the 83rd ERQS live by.
“Once the mission is accomplished, we know that we have done something noteworthy,” said Willingham. “We have gone out and saved someone’s life.”