From the Craycroft gate on D-M, it’s approximately 138 miles to our destination at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field for the July 25 combat search and rescue training mission for pararescuemen from multiple rescue squadrons and rescue groups on D-M.

As we arrive at Gila Bend and take the dirt road to our final destination, we’re forced to stop. Up ahead in the distance, aircraft are practicing bombing runs. We sit and watch the dirt-filled mushroom clouds and wait for the explosions and the trembling shockwave that follows shortly after. We’re finally given the green light to continue on.

The training mission calls for an aircraft to be shot down. Two survivors need to be evacuated from hostile territory. To make matters worse, they both have injuries. One survivor has an injured elbow, while the other has a broken ankle and femur.

Opposing forces were also present during the scenario to add another layer of realism.

“These missions, which are held monthly, are as accurate as we can get to the missions performed overseas,” said Staff Sgt. Andy Pena, 563rd Operational Support Squadron aerial gunner. “Of course, there are going to be limitations to what we can do. We have to adhere to things like range time and air space. But overall, they’re very true to life.”

When it comes to rescuing military members from combat zones, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between life and death. Pararescuemen need to be in the air as quickly as possible.

“For personnel recovery, we can be out the door and ready to go in seven minutes,” said Capt. John Sutter*, combat rescue officer. “For something like the retrieval of equipment, we can take more time and plan things out better.”

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