Air Force Jumpers Risk Lives 'That Others May Live'

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- As summer winds down and kids go back to school, outdoorsmen everywhere are looking forward to hunting season and getting out into the woods.

Each year hundreds of hunters, hikers, and climbers get lost or injured in the wilderness and need to be rescued. 

Depending on where you live, there are many search and rescue options. But if all else fails, the job might fall to an elite unit of Air Force pararescuemen known as PJs, or pararescue jumpers.

212th Rescue Squadron
 
The 212th Rescue Squadron, based in Anchorage, Alaska, is one of the busiest rescue forces in the world. 

The unit, made up of highly trained combat rescue officers and pararescuemen, relies on an incredible range of skills to enable them to get in, rescue people who are in trouble, and get them to safety.
 
"When they call us, everyone else has been called and everyone else has said no," Capt. John Romspert, a combat rescue officer, told CBN News.

"Whenever the beeper goes off or the cell phone rings, you never know what you're going to get, whether it's jumping in from an airplane, flying in out of a helicopter, or swimming in from a waterborne vessel to rescue or recover remains or sensitive material," he said.

All those skills also come in handy when the men have to go off to their real jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In the war zone, rescues take on greater urgency when combined with enemy fire. These saviors from the sky, who go by the call sign "pedros," are more than just an air ambulance. 

What sets them apart is their willingness to go into the hottest landing zones, with guns blazing if necessary.
 
"We go in with guns on our aircraft and fully armed. We're a combat force. We can actually fight to our objective, secure it, and come back," Romspert said.

The incredible pace in Afghanistan means these men all have plenty of combat experience, and each of these PJs has to find his own way to work through the stress once he returns home.

Transitioning to 'Normal'
 
"One of the most difficult things about coming back is just kinda transitioning back into family life as a dad and as a husband," Sgt. Brandon Stuemke, a pararescueman with the 212th Squadron, told CBN News.

"You know, somebody's in a rush in rush hour traffic and to them that's the most important thing in the world, when you've been overseas pulling soldiers off the front lines or dealing with dead Americans," he explained.

"I think that's just one of the hardest things is people…don't understand what we deal with overseas on a day-to-day basis," he said.

During the last decade, Air Force pararescuemen have constantly been in harm's way, responding to help their brothers on the ground.

In the process, more than 10 airmen have died in the line of duty. Their sacrifice underscores the depth of their commitment to live up to the pararescue motto: "That Others May Live."

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Chuck Holton

Chuck Holton

CBN News Reporter

Chuck Holton has been producing high-octane features and news for CBN since 2003. He has freelance reported from nearly all of the world's hot spots, including Afghanistan, Burma, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.