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Airmen, Soldiers build partnership for life-saving mission in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Rescue Airmen from the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron and Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crews from C Co. 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion have developed a strong partnership over the last several months to enable an essential military mission: personnel recovery. The Airmen and Soldiers work and train together regularly at Kandahar Airfield to ensure they are always ready to save lives when the time comes.

The Soldiers and Airmen work side-by-side to execute the personnel recovery mission in Southwestern Afghanistan, standing ready to rescue, recover and return joint and coalition forces in times of danger or extreme duress.

“Our partnership with the Army is vital to the success of our mission,” said Capt. John Conner, combat rescue officer and team commander at the 64th ERQS. “These relationships we develop with our Army aircrews creates the foundational framework that everything else builds upon. It instills confidence and competence in each other’s capabilities through repetitious training, which ultimately develops trust.”

Conner said that trust is essential to smooth operations, as they often face uncertain circumstances, split-second decisions and life-or-death consequences. He said their positive joint partnership is a result of shared respect for each other and dedication to the mission.

“They have the tenacity and desire to make a difference in the mission they support.” Conner said. “Ultimately, our partnership reinstalls the pride I have in our military because regardless of what branch you represent, everyone works hard to make a difference for the mission and the people.”

While these Airmen typically work and train with HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, specifically outfitted for rescue, Conner said the Army’s Blackhawks bring some unique capabilities to support the pararescue mission, including the ability to travel farther and at higher altitudes, plus additional space for more personnel.

The trust and respect is mutual, and the relationship is symbiotic, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian Coleman, pilot-in-command and an air mission commander for the 1-171st GSAB personnel recovery detachment. Part of the team-building process was learning the expertise each side brings to the mission.

“We constantly engage in each other's specialties to grasp the full concept of being a team,” Coleman said. “The Air Force takes every opportunity to learn our capabilities of our aircraft and operating procedures. We go through combat maneuvering, gunnery, and rescue hoist training frequently to find areas in which we both can improve and find a common ground between our two branches.”

This partnership not only embodies the joint force concept, but also the total force: the Airmen are active duty, while the Soldiers are primarily Army National Guardsmen. Coleman, who has worked with the Air Force for medical evacuation during three previous deployments, said this experience has been one of the best for him.  

“This current deployment with the pararescue squadron has been phenomenal,” Coleman said. “I have never seen a more well-rounded group on a deployment than the Air Force personnel I get to work with.”

The terrain and climate in Afghanistan pose some challenges, but the helicopter crews continually train to adapt. Although the job can be stressful, demanding and dangerous, Coleman said he enjoys the camaraderie and loves being part of the personnel recovery mission.  

“I love having the opportunity to come to work, get into our helicopter, and fly with Soldiers and Airmen who want to be in that aircraft just as much as I do,” Coleman said. “I like to think that when we all want the same thing it can help strengthen the bond we have built together as a joint team for those who follow after we are long gone.”

Pararescuemen are the only Department of Defense combat forces specifically organized, trained, equipped and postured to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery including conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations. These highly trained and versatile personnel recovery specialists are capable of executing the most perilous, demanding and extreme rescue missions across the globe.

The 64th ERQS is part of the 455th Air Expeditionary headquartered at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The wing’s mission is to defend Afghanistan’s two busiest airfields, support joint partners and deliver decisive airpower throughout the region in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO Resolute Support mission.