U.S. Air Force pararescuemen, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, secure the area after being lowered from a U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk during a mission Nov. 7, 2012, in Afghanistan. Pararescue teams assault, secure, and dominate the rescue objective area using any available Department of Department or Allied, air, land, or sea asset. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (November 29, 2012) — It’s late in the afternoon at the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, and there seems to be little going on.
HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters are parked along the flightline, motionless and unoccupied. Inside the squadron, it’s relatively quiet as well. Some Airmen are at computer workstations, checking email or keeping track of current events, while others relax in a break room.
Suddenly, a phone rings and the entire building springs to life. A medical evacuation request has just come in for a “Category Alpha” point-of-injury pickup, and everyone in the squadron - from Pave Hawk maintainers and pilots to mission planners and pararescuemen (PJs) - are now on the clock.
Capt. Chris Obranovich, 83rd ERQS combat rescue pilot, said speed is extremely important in such a situation.
“Launching for a ‘Cat A’ patient, our contract is that we will get that survivor back to advanced medical care within one hour of notification,” he said. “So when those calls come out, each minute is critical.”
The initial, or nine-line, report contains all the basic information the squadron needs to respond to a call, including the location, condition of the survivor, where they are, and any enemy activity in the area. Once they have that information, the team starts to move.
While they get the Pave Hawks ready to launch, the two aircraft commanders confer about the mission with the combat rescue officer and PJ team lead, developing a plan to get the survivor out safely.
Capt. Brian Carey, 83rd ERQS combat rescue officer, said his team has 15 minutes during a Cat-A to get off the deck and on their way to the location, where they will pick up wounded personnel and transport them back to a combat support hospital.
“When a person is injured, we follow the ‘Golden Hour’ rule,” Carey said. “If we can get someone back to the combat support hospital within sixty minutes of the injury, they have an extremely good chance of surviving.”
In addition to critical point of injury CASEVAC missions, the squadron is also tasked with Afghanistan Personnel Recovery (PR) operations.
The alert windows and response times can vary depending on the type of mission and location, but 83rd ERQS Airmen are standing by 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to answer the next call.
“Our missions can range from recovering a downed Airman, doing a personnel recovery combat search and rescue type mission, to rescuing injured civilians in the area or Army personnel out of the battlefield,” Obranovich said.
Carey said, “We have an armed recovery force that can go into a high-risk scenario, into an active TIC [Troops in Contact], conduct a recovery and bring personnel back to safety without an armed escort or other ground assets.”
From Bagram, he said, the squadron is tasked with covering a large portion of the Regional Command-East area.
“We can go anywhere from an hour to two hours away to recover personnel, and we have the capabilities to conduct aerial refueling if necessary,” the captain said. “The distance we cover with the terrain we operate in makes this area up here in RC-East a very challenging area to operate in.”
Preparation and training - both at home station and while deployed - go a long way to ensure squadron Airmen can overcome any challenge.
Obranovich said combat rescue pilots routinely train with PJs, and typically deploy together.
“It helps quite a bit being able to train back home station with our own pararescuemen,” he said. Training together gives us an understanding of what their needs are, and how to communicate and operate as an effective team here.
Carey said training missions in Afghanistan are equally beneficial, and provide experience operating in the same terrain and conditions as real-world operations.
“The capabilities that we have up here give us the chance to go out and keep our skills, keep our proficiency up,” he said. “We’re constantly training with other assets, training with our team, to keep our skills sharp and make sure that we’re ready to conduct a mission at any time.”
That readiness - along with the willingness to do what it takes “That Others May Live” - translates to much more than just the success of a combat operation. Since arriving in August, the current rotation of 83rd ERQS combat rescue pilots and PJs have completed 149 combat sorties, saving at least 18 lives.
“The most rewarding part of the job,” Carey said, “is to know that every day you go out and you get people that are in a bad situation, you bring them back to a better situation, and further their chances of making it home to their families.”