Fort Bliss assists Air Force with crucial pararescue training
The cadre at the USAF Pararescue School here employed a dynamic exercise regimen and the 3rd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, an Army unit from Fort Bliss, Texas, to create the fog of war for students Jan. 4-13.
The 10-day final evaluation phase was designed to test students comprehensively before they earn the right to where the maroon beret at the end of this month, according to 351st Battlefield Airman Training Squadron (PJ School) commander, Lt. Col. Joe Lopez.
"This is a sequence of missions that we provide these students full mission profiles and we drop several missions per day on them through the course of 10 days," Lopez said.
A mass casualty scenario the morning of Jan. 6 demonstrated the rigor and complexity of a full mission profile, he explained. Incorporating more than 100 Airmen and Soldiers, the scenario included downed helicopters and a convoying response force that came under attack while trying to help. At that point, the PJ and CRO students were inserted via UH-60 Blackhawks from the 3-501st.
"Students have been given the mission, have planned for the mission and are preparing to arrive on station to render aide to the folks that need it," Lopez said, as small arms fire rang out and Blackhawk rotors began slashing through the sky above the training area.
The students were inserted on a hilltop while taking fire, and managed to triage, treat and transport all wounded over the course of the exercise. As the Blackhawks returned to the FOB, Blackhawk pilot and Albuquerque native Army Capt. Chloe Flores said the exercise was a great opportunity for the Army contingent.
"Things went really well today. This (joint training) provides a good opportunity for us to train with actual Pararescuemen, the dynamic mission set that they face really gives us an opportunity to practice how to react to that mission set and support them," said Flores, commander of the 3-501st's Charlie Company. "It was very hasty, we had to move really fast, and aircraft had to split up to support forces (under attack) on the ground. We were sequencing aircraft out of a (hot landing zone) and were able to pick up the patients and bring them back to the medical facility here."
Flores graduated from Eldorado High School before going on to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. She said it was nice to be stationed close to home and even better to exercise at Kirtland.
"It's really cool to be back home and training in my own back yard here," she said.
Another homecoming of sorts took place during the exercise, as the 351st's Director of Training Master Sgt. Aaron Love linked up with his brother and 3-501st Blackhawk Pilot Army CW2 Brian Love. Originally from Akron, Ohio, they had previously served in Iraq at the same time, but this was the first time they had trained together in integrated units.
Love said that while they kid each other about the inter-service rivalry, they share a serious mutual respect and everybody else better do the same.
"We mess with each other all the time, but outside of us it's all about praise and respect," Love said. "Everybody around here knows all about the Love brothers. We're real proud of us."
Both have taken on high risk missions in the interest of their nation's defense. In fact, this sentiment is exemplified in the PJ and CRO motto, "We do these things that others may live." Students so near to putting on their berets have overcome many obstacles and years of elite military training to get to this point, Lopez explained.
"These gentlemen have been in their course of training for approximately two to three years," Lopez said. "The end of this training is approximately six months long—the apprentice course—they are now two to three weeks away from becoming brand new Pararescuemen and Combat Rescue Officers."
Training prior to the apprentice course here at Kirtland includes Army airborne, military free fall, survival school, combat dive and emergency medical technician training and certification. The washout rate for people entering the program is between 85 and 90 percent, Lopez said.
"We are looking for someone that is extremely physically capable, but also mentally resilient and able to bring all that together on the battlefield," Lopez said.