Air Force Pararescue – “That Others May Live”

Published: 25th March 2011
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There is more to the Air Force Pararescue team than just providing emergency medical treatment. These highly trained members of the Air Force evacuate the injured, act as aircrew gunners, provide various flight duties, and provide landing sites for NASA missions. The history of this Special Forces unit is quite a story and it sheds some light on why it is considered one of the most unique units in the military today.



In 1943, 21 people jumped out of a C-46 that was in trouble over a jungle near the Burma/China Border. The crash site was in a such a remote area that the only way to get help to those who survived was by parachuting into the area. Two medical corpsmen and Lt. Colonel Fleckinger volunteered to parachute in. This was the beginnings of the idea for a Pararescue unit. For over a month, these three men, with the help of natives, took care of the injured until they could be taken out of the jungle. One of those rescued individuals, Eric Severeid, a news commentator, described the men as "gallant."



The Pararescue unit of the Air Force was founded. Since that time, rescues have occurred almost everywhere in the world. In South East Asia, during Vietnam, Pararescuemen risked their lives on multiple occasions to get aid to and evacuate friendly forces that needed immediate help. There were 19 Air Force Crosses awarded to enlisted airmen during Vietnam and ten of those medals were awarded to Pararescuemen.



Even in times of peace, the functions of this unit are done every day. They provide medical treatment for injured men and women. The maroon beret, a symbol of those who serve in this elite unit, represents the blood sacrificed and the duty to aid others. "That Others May Live" is a fitting motto for this organization.



A Pararescue SCUBA team was credited for saving the astronauts of Gemini 8. The team deployed from Naha Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. They arrived just in time to watch as Gemini 8 hit the water. They parachuted into the ocean and attached flotation equipment within just twenty minutes. They remained with the astronauts until a Navy destroyer was able to pick them all up.



The training is extensive, to say the least. This unit is constantly striving for new ways to provide recovery and medical aid to those who need it. One of the major developments for the unit came when they incorporated scuba techniques with that of parachuting. A Pararescueman can jump with up to 170 lbs. of equipment on his back.



Pararescuemen are not just utilized to save American lives. For example, on two different occasions, this unit was called to provide aid to two Russian seamen. One was badly burned aboard a Russian ship that was 700 miles away from land. Two Pararescuemen in the Azores parachuted into the ocean near the ship and stayed aboard the ship to provide treatment until the ship could reach port. Just two weeks later, a Russian sailor was severely injured in a fall aboard a Russian fishing boat. Three Pararescuemen provided aid until the ship was close enough to shore that a Coast Guard cutter could pick up the injured man and get him to shore.



The list of those who have been helped by the Air Force Pararescuemen goes on and on. This is a very specialized unit and only a few will pass the rigorous training program. Those who do often wear Air Force Pararescue rings. These rings are a fantastic reminder of their sacrifice and service to those in need.




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