News>Career fields meld expertise in recovery missions
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ferguson explains how to use a Global Positioning System to students May 4, 2006, during a ground survival refresher course at Hawaii's Schofield Barracks training area. The course provides hands-on realistic training for aircrew members that concentrates on the principles, techniques and skills necessary to survive in any environment and return home. Sergeant Ferguson is a survival, evasion resistance and escape instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ferguson explains how to prepare tinder to start a fire May 4, 2006, during a ground survival refresher course at Hawaii's Schofield Barracks training area. The course provides hands-on realistic training for aircrew members that concentrates on the principles, techniques and skills necessary to survive in any environment and return home. Sergeant Ferguson is a survival, evasion resistance and escape instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
Pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron are hoisted up to an HH-60G Pavehawk during Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2003 at Tallil Air Base, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
Air Force pararescuemen are extracted from an abandoned housing site by an HH-60G Pave Hawk in December 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Airmen were assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
11/29/2006 - HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AFPN) -- Airmen from three career fields have worked for the past five years to bring the guardian angel weapon system, or GAWS, online for the Air Force to provide rapid recovery of servicemembers.
Made up of survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists, pararescue jumper called PJs, and combat rescue officers, GAWS is the Air Force's answer to personnel recovery missions.
The Air Force is organized, trained and equipped to conduct personnel recovery operations in hostile or denied areas. To meet the requirements for this, the Air Force chief of staff established the position of combat rescue officer in the fall of 2000 intended to become personnel recovery subject matter experts and advocates for the SERE and PJ career fields. Additionally, the combat rescue officer is responsible for training, organizing, equipping and employing the GAWS.
Before GAWS, PJs and SERE specialists worked toward the same goal but never really connected. The only connection came from pipeline students going through a three-week Air Force survival course and annual aircrew training on survival techniques. They also did not have a single source advocacy at the officer level for their career fields.
About half way into a 10-year stand up of this career field merger, there are 61 active-duty officers and 27 Guard and Reserve officers with 10 squadrons activated, said 1st Lt. Timothy Hanks, a combat rescue officer who serves as the field's functional manager for Pacific Air Forces.
Combat rescue officers engage at the tactical level as direct combatants and at the operational and strategic level as subject matter experts for personnel recovery planning and programming on command and battle staffs.
"In time, combat rescue officers will advocate for full spectrum personnel recovery and how and when each subject matter expert is incorporated into personnel recovery," Lieutenant Hanks said. "The vision for this career field is focused on employment of a weapon system leading dedicated SERE and PJ specialists to become the Defense Department's force of choice for personnel recovery."
The guardian angel weapon system is a scalable force intended to meet DOD's needs for recovery of personnel to include all U.S. military members, DOD contractors and civilians serving overseas. Its mission calls for expertise in all five stages of the personnel recovery life cycle -- report, locate, support, recover and reintegrate isolated persons.
"Although recovery is the 'most visible' phase of personnel recovery, it is important to note that if any one of the five execution tasks fails, the entire mission is considered a failure," Lieutenant Hanks said. "The result is an American citizen being captured or detained and utilized for exploitation," he said.
Personnel recovery forces provide the capability to accomplish all five tasks in a full range of environmental and threat conditions. The GAWS are PJ Airmen providing a capability to execute each of the personnel recovery tasks with only a fraction of the manpower, saving time, money and lives.
"GAWS has allowed PJs to focus more on their recovery responsibilities," said Senior Master Sgt. Neil McCready, PACAF pararescue functional manager. "In addition, this gives senior PJs more opportunities to train and prepare our junior PJs for their wartime mission set."
In the next five years, GAWS will continue to mature and move toward its full potential, said Senior Master Sgt. Paul Knox, the PACAF SERE functional manager. The GAWS is a testament to the importance Air Force leaders have placed on the recovery and reintegration of isolated persons, their value and the Air Force's willingness to do whatever it takes to bring them home.