PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The 920th Rescue Wing hosted the 2016 Pararescue Rodeo in and around Florida's Space Coast Sept. 19-23.
The Guardian Angel Team from the 308th Rescue Squadron here put 46 battlefield Airmen through the rigors of battle-ready drills to save lives in combat, amongst Florida’s tropical environment.
Far from a day at the beach, the skills competition, also known to Air Force members as a rodeo, was a week-long event which tested pararescumen (PJs) who are trained to conduct combat search and rescue operations in a variety of environments including the jungle, desert, mountains or in water.
“These rodeos provide realistic training and that is something you always want your folks to have,” said Col. Kurt Matthews, 920th Operation Group commander. “Bringing in units from all over the world gives them the opportunity to share their techniques and procedures and plan for these events and talk to each other, watch each other and learn from each other, all in the spirit of competition.”
The forty-six PJ participants broke into 23 teams of two to compete in the following events: precision-parachuting, shooting accuracy with both the rifle and hand gun, open-ocean surface swimming, high-angle and confined-space rescue, water rescue and overall physical endurance.
“What these competitions drive out is the importance of familiarity,” said 2nd Lt. Daniel Warren, a combat rescue officer for the 212th RQS, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. “We strive to be masters at all our trades for this job, but no one can be perfect. Every opportunity is a chance to get better.”
While the rodeo focused on a wide variety of events the PJs are trained in, it also allowed them to get real-time, real-world training.
“These rodeos allow you to think quickly on your feet, improvise using speed and ingenuity to solve a dynamic problem.” said Warren. “And that is the nature of our job; to use minimal equipment on our back, faced with a problem in real time, getting creative to solve it, to save a life.”
Perseverance and mental acuity are vital ingredients that must be sharpened along with all of the other physical skill sets.
“It is the cumulative effect,” said Warren. “The jump itself isn’t difficult, the shooting in hot weather and humidity isn’t bad. All those things singularly aren’t hard, but when you add it up, it’s challenging and it requires strength. The most important lesson in meeting that wall of physical exhaustion or mental exhaustion is pushing past it. I think that is what they are trying to push here. This is effective.”
Active Duty, Guard and Reserve units from near and far came to compete in the rodeo. For the 308th RQS, hosting the event and showing what the reserve force is capable of was a top priority.
“We’ve shown the capability of our unit and professionalism of our assets,” said Master Sgt. Blain Morgan, non commissioned officer in charge of the 308th RQS’s Blue Team. “And not just our PJs, but our aircrew flight equipment team, our support staff, and maintenance squadron; everyone has shown what a Reserve unit can do and it has made the rodeo a huge success.”
Operating in this competitive environment gives Total Force PJs the edge they’ll need on the battlefield, where there are no do overs
“In this field the mission ties us all together,” said Matthews. “When these PJs are out there, they aren’t looking at who belongs to what component, all they see is another team knocking it out and performing at their level. The Air Force has come a long way with total force, we can walk away with confidence knowing that each PJ has my back and is capable to do the mission.”
And the winners are:
1st Place: Chief Master Sgt. Brandon Casteel, Staff Sgt. Brian Ayres; 350th Battle Field Group, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas
2nd Place: Master Sgt. Sam Prescott, Tech. Sgt. Jordan St. Clair; 103rd RQS, New York Air National Guard, New York
3rd Place: Staff Sgt. Matthew Gaddy, Staff Sgt. Cameron Crews; 306th RQS, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona