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Pararescuemen hone edge with realistic training

By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Master Sgt. Sean Kirsch has deployed to the Afghan theater, among other locations, numerous times during his 13-year career.

Kirsch is a pararescueman with the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron based at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. During those earlier deployments, Kirsch recalls responding to multiple combat rescue missions each day and has seen more than a dozen real-world mass casualty scenarios.

“By the end of those deployments, you were tired,” Kirsch recalled.

Now, he uses that wealth of experience to train his team – many of them Airmen on their first deployments.

“A busy day for us – where we actually get to do our jobs, is a bad day for someone else,” Kirsch said. 

The 83rd ERQS team spends twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on constant alert for any type of complex search and rescue scenario that may need their immediate response. On Nov. 17, 2016, the pararescuemen, combat rescue officers and helicopter crews of the 83rd ERQS held a mass casualty exercise meant to hone their skills for when they are needed.

The exercise is one of many training events conducted by the squadron each week, using realistic training scenarios based on real-world experiences from the seasoned veterans in the unit.

“We are rehearsing potential missions that we would most likely come across in theater,” Kirsch said. “We can never take it for granted that this [training] is a really tough mission and isn’t likely to happen. The one time you do that, you’re going to get a mission like that.”

The scene is one familiar to Afghanistan during the last 15 years: a vehicle overturned, the sounds of indirect fire, casualties strewn around the blast zone.

One pararescue team acts as 360-degree security, while the other is flown in two HH-60 Pave Hawks. As soon as the helicopters touch down, the Guardian Angels are out the door and running to the casualties.

The exercise required the use of many of the skills that would be needed in an actual combat rescue scenario, including vehicle extrication, treatment of patients, responding to indirect fire, discovering a secondary IED and evacuating patients from the scene.

“We’ve spent the last year training with our individual teams, so we’ve done jump operations, medical scenarios, extrication scenarios and then throwing all of that stuff together into full mission profiles like today,” said Kirsch. “Everybody knows their roles, everyone knows one another’s strengths and weaknesses and so together, we work as a pretty solid team.”

Those teams live, eat and work together twenty-four hours a day in two- to four-month increments for their time at Bagram.

“I’m working with other people that have the same mindset that we will do whatever we need to do to save lives and bring Americans back home,” Kirsch said. 

For this scenario, the Americans they brought home were role players and mannequins, all so that when casualties are real, the Guardian Angels are prepared.