Pararescuemen chance the extremes

  • Published
  • By Marine Lance Cpl. Ethan Hoaldridge
  • Northern Edge Joint Information Bureau
From an altitude of 3,500 feet, Air Force pararescue jumpers, or PJs, leap from a C-130 Hercules in an effort to rescue three victims from the frigid waters of the Kachemak Bay in Alaska. 

This was one of three training scenarios for PJs deployed to Alaska for Northern Edge 2006. 

“Alaska’s different climate and terrain provided excellent training opportunities for our unit,” said Maj. Andrew Reisenweber, combat rescue officer with the 31st Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan. “The rescues performed on glaciers and using our dry suits in Alaska’s cold water were things we couldn’t do in Japan.” 

While in Alaska, they performed over-water, high-angle mountain and urban rescue scenarios throughout the two weeks of training. 

Each of these events focused on the recovery and medical treatment of servicemembers in simulated combat environments, such as a fighter pilot who ejected from a burning aircraft. 

For each scenario, PJs chanced the extremes, jumping out of planes, fast-roping from helicopters and ice-climbing through the glaciers of Alaska, to practice saving people’s lives. 

“Victims without protective gear may have 40 minutes to live in the cold waters of Alaska, but with protective gear, maybe four hours,” Major Reisenweber said. “Our reaction time means everything in this job.” 

During the over-water rescue, the PJs teamed with local National Guard units to get to the rescue site quickly. 

The Alaska National Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron from Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage flew the PJs to Kachemak Bay in an HC-130 Hercules. Pararescuemen from Kulis’s 212th RSQ simulated victims for the over-water rescue. 

After the loadmasters aboard the HC-130 dropped the inflatable boat to the water, PJs followed, jumping out of the plane and parachuting toward the boat. Upon entering the water, they swam to the boat and assembled it. The PJs pulled the victims out of the water to perform a medical evaluation. 

Meanwhile, other PJs coordinated transportation from the rescue site, trying to find the nearest available unit to provide air evacuation. 

“It’s whoever has the quickest reaction time according to our location; it may be a Navy ship or an Army helicopter,” said Capt. Charles Bris-Bois, combat rescue officer, 31st RSQ. 

Whether it’s a sea or mountainside rescue, the capabilities practiced by PJs during Northern Edge have an end-result of lives saved.

Northern Edge, which ends June 16, is one of a series of U.S. Pacific Command exercises designed to prepare joint forces for worldwide deployment, enabling real-world proficiency in the detection and tracking of units at sea, in the air and on land.