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Joint Air Force, Army team enhances Afghanistan rescue mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs
The night is dark. The air is heavy, filled with the smoke and dust of Afghanistan. On the flightline at Bagram Airfield, a U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook helicopter sits beating thunder with its blades against the sky, waiting. An 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel team, which consists of pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, runs out and boards. As the Guardian Angles settle into their seats, the pilots on the Chinook begin their takeoff protocol. The helicopter takes off against the night sky over the mountainous terrain.

During the ensuing flight, two teams will conduct a personnel recovery exercise, testing their capability to work together as they extricate simulated casualties from a downed aircraft. For the first time during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force are working together to execute personnel recovery.

“Personnel recovery is a no-fail strategic mission,” said Maj. Robert Wilson, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander. “The interoperability between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, by way of the CH-47F, has enabled our Guardian Angel teams to effectively conduct a wide variety of PR operations in ways not previously attainable.”

Executing PR missions with CH-47Fs gives the seven-man Guardian Angel team unique advantages; such as an increased capacity to recover a larger number of isolated personnel and the ability to fly further and higher than previous platforms allowed.

“This partnership strengthens the resolve of those fighting on the ground and in the air to fight harder and longer, knowing that someone will always have their back,” said Wilson.

The Chinook is a twin-turbine, tandem-rotor, heavy lift transport helicopter with a useful load of up to 25,000 lbs. With its high altitude and payload capability, the CH-47F is vital to operations overseas, such as OFS. Its capabilities include medical evacuation, aircraft recovery, parachute drops, disaster relief, and combat search and rescue.

“I’ve been flying CH-47 models for 22 years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shawn Miller, CH-47F pilot with the South Carolina Army National Guard. “This is an unprecedented tasking. Never in its history has an Army unit been tasked to provide dedicated aviation assets and crew to conduct joint personnel recovery operations.”

Miller’s team is also joined by the Illinois Army National Guard.

The CH-47F model, with its enhanced capabilities, combined with the combat search and rescue mission set, allows the team as a whole to transport more personnel and essential equipment higher, further distances, and offer longer on-scene station times than ever before, Miller added.

As the conflict over the last 17 years has proven time and time again, joint operations between services capitalize on the unique skillset each branch brings to the fight.


“The CH-47F’s speed, size, and range increases Guardian Angel rescue team’s ability to project the full gambit of rescue capabilities across the area of operations, bringing lifesaving capabilities to U.S. and coalition forces in need,” said an 83rd ERQS combat rescue officer. The larger aircraft means a larger Army ground security team, which minimizes the threat to the GA forces and allows them to solely focus on the rescue.

“[Additionally] having the ability to load our entire team onto a single airframe greatly enhances our span of control of our technical rescue specialties and the ability to treat multiple patients at once,” added the CRO. The aircraft can move up to three litter or 15 ambulatory patients, depending on how the aircraft is configured.

While the CH-47Fs provide many advantages, they are not without their own unique set of risks as well.

“Yes, this aircraft has more space, power and fuel capacity, but it is also a bigger aircraft, hence a bigger target,” said an 83rd ERQS pararescueman, also known as a PJ. “Flying in a Chinook has its benefits, but like everything, you take the good with the bad.”
For missions in Afghanistan, because of its high altitudes and current enemy threats, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks of using a different system. Especially in terms of the varied mission sets required of the PR enterprise.

“As a team we are highly trained in a wide variety of technical rescue specialties, which can also require a large amount of professional gear,” said the PJ. “These specialties can range from high angle/alpine rescue…to scuba diving.” The pararescue team also specializes in cold weather/avalanche or snow and ice rescue, collapsed structure/confined space extrication, or many different forms of jump operations in static-line or free-fall configuration.

“On top of all that we still have gear for our main purpose, which is para-medicine. So having said that, using the Chinook allows us to utilize a team to its full capacity.”

Using the teams to their full capacity is all about strengthening the resolve of those fighting on the ground and in the air.

Wilson and his Airmen know this, and he wants all forces to also understand this: “Critical to the warfighter is knowing that a highly trained and capable PR force is standing ready at a moment’s notice, willingly placing themselves in harm’s way…so that others may live.”