By Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 20, 2014
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFNS) -- Green feet mean rescue.
Tech. Sgt. Mathew Macella, the 56th Rescue Squadron pararescueman blue team NCO in charge, succinctly summed up the explanation for all the stickers of green feet found around Royal Air Force Lakenheath and what they mean for the 56th RQS.
The origin of the green feet symbol came from Vietnam, when the HH-3E helicopter, also known as the Jolly Green Giant, would land in the rice patties and grass fields, leaving huge impressions that looked like giant green footprints.
"The symbol of the green feet spawned from the jolly green giant," explained Staff Sgt. Roger Brown, a 56th Helicopter Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief. "The green feet symbol is from retired Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Fisk. He wanted a symbol that everyone could recognize and remember, and he came up with the green feet."
The 56th RQS is unique in several ways, according to squadron Airmen.
"Anytime you see the green feet at the 56th, you'll notice that it has five toes on the left foot and six toes on the other foot," said Lt. Col. Bernard Smith, the 56th RQS director of operations. "That's to represent the squadron - the 56th."
At the 56th RQS, the pilots, maintenance personnel, aircrew, and the pararescuemen, or PJs, are closely integrated.
"We are a very busy community and we work very hard," said Capt. Sky Jensen, the 56th RQS chief of weapons and tactics. "I think that really brings us together. Unlike a lot of other communities, we're very close with our maintenance Airmen. The enlisted and the officers work very well together. We have a very close relationship."
Brown explained that the rescue community is small and tight-knit, like a family. The tradition of painting an Airman's feet green after their final flight or before a permanent change of station, is a way of leaving an impression and staying connected.
"When someone leaves, that's the way to commemorate them," Brown said. "Any of my deployment locations or home stations, my feet are there with the dates and times. I'll go to a place, and I'll look where they put the feet, and I'll be like, 'Oh, I know that guy, I worked with that guy.' We're (a small community), it's nice to see who's come and gone."
The rescue community may be small, but the green feet symbol has traveled far and wide. If you look closely, the feet, with varying numbers of toes, can be found all around the world.
"We are very big on our symbol," Brown said. "We like to share and spread it everywhere. I've put it in bars all across America. I know other people have random places they've put them. I've green-feeted the most southern point in the U.S."
"In aircraft maintenance, it's a thing to tag other people's aircraft," Brown said. "We've tagged British aircraft, the army, all kinds of stuff like that. It's just fun for us to spread it around. We are actually pretty good at it."
Brown told a story of a competitive tagging war between the American and British forces.
"They tagged one of our helicopters, so at night we went out and tagged every helicopter down a half-mile ramp," Brown said. "They called it quits; they didn't want to play anymore."
One of the most storied green feet traditions is getting the tattoo, which traditionally is located on an Airman's posterior.
"Getting the tattoo, it feels like you're a part of the team within the team," said Capt. Ryan Martelly, 56th RQS executive officer. "You worked really hard to get here, and now you're doing all the training and working really hard so that you can be in the right place at the right time, so when you're name is called and someone needs your help you can go and rescue and bring everybody back home safely."
As to why the tradition is to get the tattoo on this specific part of the body, Smith said most of the people have it in that location just to kind of keep it hidden.
“It's one of our things,” he said. “We execute our mission, but we definitely try to be humble in our mission. We are not looking for fame or fortune. It's just to rescue the person."
The green feet, and the history surrounding the symbol, hold a great deal of significance for everyone involved in rescue.
"It means a lot. It means honor, tradition - realistically it means rescue, bringing people home," Macella said. "It's not just about pararescue, it's not just about the helicopter; it's the ingenuity and the commitment of people to bring Americans home."
Tradition, pride, family, community, rescue: these are the things that came to mind when the Airmen of the 56th RQS thought of what the green feet symbol means to them.
"That others may live. I have no doubt in my mind that it's the greatest mission in the Air force," Smith said. "You're going into a situation where a person is having the worst day of their entire life, and you are risking 12, sometimes 14, people to take that person out of harm's way and bring them back home. Also, just the personal responsibility of this being one of our brothers or sisters in arms, we are not going to let them be lost."