They Man an 'ANYWHERE AMBULANCE' - Pararescuemen get it done in air, on land and at sea

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
  • Torch Magazine
Senior Airman Jackson Rogers was ready to blow chunks. The C-130 Hercules he'd hitched a ride on flew several low-level passes in bad weather, causing a lot of
turbulence. By the time the cargo plane reached the drop zone, the bumpy ride had made Rogers seriously airsick.

All he could think about was getting off the aircraft.

That, at least, would happen quickly. Training to be a
pararescueman, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes is part of the trade. Since this elite brotherhood of warriors is tasked with the recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments, in essence they man an "ambulance" that goes anywhere and everywhere a person could imagine.

As such, Rogers had jumped out of a C-130 before, but this time he admits he was distracted by his queasy stomach.

"I got tunnel vision," he said. "Instead of thinking about the correct body position I needed during the jump and going through the motions, I just wanted to get off that aircraft so
I could feel better."

As a result, his body position was poor when he hit the slipstream, and he lost control of his jump. He flipped up through the risers, which connect the parachute to the harness. His right leg got snagged, twisting his knee badly enough to break a piece of bone off. The parachute, which was hooked to a static line, deployed while he was still upside down.

In excruciating pain as he dangled from the chute, he realized he still needed to land on his damaged limb.

"So I got very focused very quickly, and went step-by-step through my training to perform as perfect a landing as I could," he said.

Before he even hit the ground, he had learned an important lesson in risk management: Think before you act.

"I'll never make that mistake again," he said.

Pain and humiliation can be good teachers. Rogers was embarrassed because he failed in his training mission objective, which was to recover a downed pilot and provide medical attention. Instead, he was the one in need of medical attention and recovery. He realized if he'd made that mistake in a real-world environment, he could have cost the pilot his life.

He had plenty of time to think about that blunder as he recovered from his injury. To rub salt in the wound, graduation day for him was delayed six months.

But thankfully, graduation day did come. Rogers is one of 11 Air Force students who attended the Pararescue/Combat Rescue Officer Apprentice Course with Detachment 1, 342nd Training Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., earlier this year.

Before graduating, the trainees had one final hurdle called the field training exercise. This exercise combines all the pararescue apprentice course training blocks together in medical rescue missions and evaluates the students to ensure they retained the information and knowledge they were taught throughout the course, said Master Sgt. Todd Popovic, course superintendent.

"It takes everything they have learned up to this point and gives it to them in a fire hose effect," Popovic said. "It's sensory overload for them, but that is what we want to see. We want to give them as much experience in wartime scenarios as we can before they go out to Iraq or Afghanistan and do it for real."

Popovic says they call this training "dirt medicine."

"Basically, we take what they already learned in paramedic medicine and give it a wartime twist," he said.

"Wartime twists" include tactics, jumping out of aircraft, navigating and firefights with the enemy, just to name a few.

"From the beginning, pararescue students and combat rescue officer candidates are exposed to high-stress situations," Popovic said. "They are told when your mind is not where it should be, people could lose their lives. All high-risk activities are rehearsed and briefed several times before the students actually conduct the event. Nevertheless, there is still that chance that something will go wrong. But when that something does go wrong, the lessons that we have taught them take over, and they adapt and overcome."

Rogers got a chance to prove this theory and gain redemption.

Six months after the injury that sidelined him, the 22-year-old found himself on a similar training mission to recover and medically attend to a downed pilot. As he reached the drop zone, he mentally got his 5-foot-10-inch, 168-pound frame ready for the jump from the aircraft.

"Legs together, feet and knees together, hands on the side of my reserve, bend slightly at the waist, hold that position tightly," he thought.

He wanted to show his instructors that this soybean and rice farmer from Des Arc, Ark., was ready for real-world missions.

He executed a near-perfect jump, landed like a pro and provided spot-on first response medical care, saving the pilot.

His comeback complete, Rogers graduated Sept. 12, joining an elite fraternity. Shortly thereafter, he, along with his wife Jennifer and 1-year-old son Jake, headed for his first assignment as a full-fledged, maroon-beret-wearing pararescueman with the 33rd Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

For the time being, he'll man an "anywhere ambulance" in the Pacific.