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Training comes first for pararescue Airmen

Tech. Sgt. Will Wilis, Pararescue Instructor 342nd Training Squadron (front), reaches Rigging Alternate Method Zodiac package first as Staff Sgt. Josh Webster and other air-dropped PJ trainees swim to unpack it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons) (Released)

Tech. Sgt. Will Wilis, pararescue instructor 342nd Training Squadron (front), reaches rigging alternate method zodiac package first as Staff Sgt. Josh Webster and other air-dropped PJ trainees swim to unpack it. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons)

Pararescue trainees from the 342nd Training Squadron jump off of a 920th Rescue wing HC-130 into the Banana River off the coast of Patrick AFB, Fla. Trainees come to Patrick as part of their six-week air operations training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Grande) (Released)

Pararescue trainees from the 342nd Training Squadron jump off of a 920th Rescue Wing HC-130 Hercules into the Banana River off the coast of Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Trainees come to Patrick as part of their six-week air operations training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Grande)

Airmen 1st Class Brian Bair and Nicholas Gibson, pararescue trainees from the 342nd Training Squadron onboard a 920th Rescue Wing HC-130, wait for the order to jump during the water jump portion of Air Operations training Oct. 13. Twenty trainees and 13 instructors participated in this training at Patrick Air Forcc base, Fla., Oct. 13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Grande) (Released)

Airmen 1st Class Brian Bair and Nicholas Gibson, pararescue trainees from the 342nd Training Squadron onboard a 920th Rescue Wing HC-130 Hercules, wait for the order to jump during the water jump portion of air operations training Oct. 13. Twenty trainees and 13 instructors participated in this training at Patrick Air Forcc Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Grande)

PJ trainees parachute into the Banana River.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons) (Released)

Pararescue trainees parachute into the Banana River as part of air operations training Oct. 13 near Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons)

PJ trainees parachute into the Banana River.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons) (Released)

Pararescue trainees parachute into the Banana River as part of air operations training Oct. 13 near Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons)

Airman 1st Class Jeff Larsen, pararescue trainee swims in the Banana River during air operations training at Patrick AFB, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons) (Released)

Airman 1st Class Jeff Larsen, a pararescue trainee, swims in the Banana River during air operations training at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Air Force pararescue is an elite force, but before its Airmen are PJs they're trainees. And sometimes PJ training brings them here before they join the world of combat rescue.

Thirteen instructors and 20 pararescue trainees with the 342nd Training Squadron traveled from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., to the 920th Rescue Wing to complete an air operations training block Oct. 7-21.

"We train here because of so many convenient facilities," said Tech. Sgt. Tracy Debbs, pararescue instructor. "From the water area and boat docks to the parachute tower, everything is real close and convenient." 

A segment of the training intensified Oct. 13 when 12 PJ trainees and several instructors carried out a rigging alternate method zodiac drop. First they prepared and checked the equipment. Then with the help of two 39th Rescue Squadron loadmasters they loaded it onto one of the 920th RQW's HC-130 Hercules aircraft.

With everything strapped in, the crew pushed up the throttle accelerating them from zero to 100 miles per hour in about 15 seconds. They quickly went airborne and the trainees prepared mentally for their jumps.

"These kids are trainees and most of them said they had about 15-jumps-worth of experience," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Grande, 39th RQS radio operator onboard for the training. "While I imagine they're nervous, they all seemed focused and committed the whole way through."

While the "King" Hercules took to the air, two large safety boats and two small inflatable Zodiacs launched and patrolled the drop zone about 1 ½ miles from shore in the Banana River.

"Everthing they're doing in the air is for the benefit of the drop," said Ken Knutson, PJ instructor. "In a real mission there are no safety boats so this is the time for them to prepare."

The day's training included three RAMZ drops each accompanied by four PJ trainees and an instructor. Under the watchful eye of expert instructors the trainees hit the water running. They quickly made their way to dropped equipment palates where they wrestled with fasteners and straps to free the un-inflated zodiac boats.

Throughout this process the instructors delivered pointed directions and critiques to make sure safety, speed and effectiveness were properly considered.

Instructors accompany students to Patrick four times each year. The training lasts two weeks and is part of a six-week air operations training block. Once they finish here, the trainees are only 6 ½  weeks away from being fully trained.

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