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Pararescuemen continue Pakistan humanitarian relief

by 1st Lt. Erick Saks
818th Contingency Response Group Public Affairs

11/16/2005 - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFPN) -- Above the mountainous countryside of northern Pakistan, two Air Force pararescuemen aboard a Russian-made MI-8 helicopter survey areas where people may need relief supplies.

These Airmen, known as PJs, are part of a unit that traveled halfway around the world to participate in the ongoing humanitarian relief effort here. The country experienced a magnitude 7.6 earthquake last month. It killed more than 73,000 people, the Pakistani government said.

The PJ are providing a search and rescue capability to the operation. And they also provide medical assistance in areas affected by the earthquake, said PJ Senior Master Sgt. David Shuman.

"Each day, our team is standing by in case we are needed," he said. "We have two guys flying on alert with a U.S. aircrew and two guys standing alert here with access to specialized rescue equipment. And we put another team on an aircraft of opportunity to drop off aid and help out the people.

“It allows us to have strong coverage of the operations area in case we are needed," he said.

The PJs are from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron at Anchorage. Here they work with the 818th Contingency Response Group and 24th Air Expeditionary Group. Both are primarily made up of 621st Contingency Response Wing and 305th Air Mobility Wing members from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

Within 24 hours of the Oct. 8 quake, humanitarian aid began flowing into the country from around the world. A large part of the aid arrived at remote locations via U.S. and coalition helicopters.

"The more helicopters you have flying, the more your chances increase of having a crash," said PJ Tech. Sgt. Chris Robertson. "The risk also increases when you're flying outside the United States, where the aircraft operating rules are very different."

But this team is particularly well-suited to operate in Pakistan’s mountainous area, Sergeant Robertson said.

"As Alaskan PJs, we have by far more mountain training than any other unit in the world," he said. "We train in high angle rescues. This includes figuring out that puzzle of how to rescue someone on a mountain using ropes, anchors and pulleys.

We also can do confined space rescues, which is just how it sounds, crawling through rubble to save someone," he said.

The team has not had to respond to a distress call. But combat rescue officer Maj. Tom Stephens said the team is ready to perform their search and rescue mission.

"A slow day for us is a good day for everyone else," Major Stephens said.

To fulfill the team's humanitarian assistance role, team members fly aboard U.S. military and embassy aircraft surveying villages and providing medical care.

"We visit different villages daily to see what kind of supplies and medical care they need," said PJ Tech. Sgt. Dave Johnson. "In the civilian world, we are qualified to the paramedic level, but our training takes us well beyond that. We practice battlefield medicine.

“The standard we train to in special operations medicine is being able to care for someone with a traumatic injury or medical emergency for up to three days," he said.

Flying above northern Pakistan, the PJs have seen the effects of the earthquake first hand.

"Some of these areas have just been devastated," Sergeant Robertson said. "Balacot (an area north of Islamabad) has just been leveled. It has that landfill look to it. This one hill had all of these houses on it, and now, it doesn't look like anyone could ever have lived there."

While the pararescuemen have been able to provide medical support for more than 100 people following the earthquake, Sergeant Robertson said team members know there are more people who could use their help.

"It's been frustrating flying over so much devastation and not being able to help more people," he said. "We're the type of people who always want to do more."

(Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)

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