Pararescue-the special forces that rescued the SEALs

2021-12-15 00:23:43 By : Ms. Bella Zhao

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They are the "guardian angels" of the army. They are well-trained paramedics, paratroopers and combat divers. This is the story of such a pilot and the mission of a lifetime.

The skydiver screamed and commanded on the roaring engine, and the rear hatch of the HC-130 aircraft yawned in the night. A blast of cold wind entered the engine room. It passed the seven pilots in a row, scattered paper, fabric and tape flying in the thin air. In front, Sergeant Saint Claire, the team leader, looked out the ramp door. He can see nothing. A low cloud layer obscured the moon and stars, and erased the difference between the black sky and the black Atlantic Ocean below. He turned to his men, everyone carrying more than one hundred and fifty pounds of equipment. Their faces were illuminated only by the soft glow of chemical lamps.

Seven pilots got up. In the next command—"Get the bait!"—they clamped the red static cord of the parachute to the steel cord overhead.

Below 1,500 feet, their goal is: Tamar, which is a two-thirds merchant ship sailing from Baltimore to Gibraltar. Earlier that morning, there was an explosion on the ship, and some unknown ignition ignited the four sailors working inside the hull. The captain wrote in the distress message that these people had been burned from head to toe. They are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; the nearest land—the Azores—is more than five hundred miles to the east. They are beyond the range of US and Portuguese Coast Guard helicopters and rescue ships. The man is seriously injured and needs expert care. The captain’s message was transmitted from Lisbon to Portsmouth, then to Boston, and then to the pilots on Long Island. Within hours of the explosion, two sailors died. The other two men—scorched and peeled—are waiting now, without painkillers.

The light next to the gangway door turned red, and the pilot was about to take off. They are members of the U.S. Air Force Pararescue-parajumpers, or PJs for short-elite special operations soldiers, little known. Their mission is to rescue people who were ambushed, injured in an improvised explosive device explosion, and trapped behind enemy lines. They were trained to jump from a plane and perform surgery on a helicopter. They were the pilots who arrived when the SEALs dialed 9-1-1. The seven PJs on the plane tonight are members of the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard. They are one of the few military reserve special operations units. Many of these PJs have served together in Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. When they are not deployed overseas, these PJs will return home and stand by at any time to provide emergency support to the maritime community and the U.S. Coast Guard during particularly challenging missions. This is what these PJs in West Hampton Beach, Long Island did on the night of April 2017, 1,900 miles east of their hometown.

The light at the door turned green. "go with!"

The St. Clair duck steps up and then over the edge of the ramp. The red line suddenly opened his parachute, and he was blown down by the wind at 130 miles per hour. He does not twist. He will not deviate or lose his way. Looking down, St. Clair could see it, the Tamar ship, its flooded deck lights exuding fuzzy white against the surrounding black.

He turned around and looked for another white lamp in the night, a strobe lighthouse hung on a canvas-wrapped crate. Just before he left by himself, the crate was cut off from the plane. It contains the team’s only hope to reach Tamar: inflatable rubber boats and engines. St. Claire manipulated his parachute, unfastening the belt in midair as he chased the flashing lighthouse.

He collided with the Atlantic Ocean. Ten-foot waves dragged him from peak to trough. He cut off the rest of the slide. He swam clearly and looked around. Then he found the beacon through the broken crest, and when each successive jumper hit the waters around him, wrestled with the sea, untied the ropes, and followed closely behind, he advanced towards the crate.

The PJs gathered on the crates. They cut off the parachute, pulled off the belt, and dehydrated the ship’s engine. They reported their status to the crew who were still flying over the air by radio, and then contacted the captain. The captain of the Tamar now crossed this line, sounded crazy through the PJs headset: "You have to get this ship. Now!"

In 2007, St. Clair walked into a conscription office in Portland, Maine, with a life-threatening life. He is 20 years old. He decided to leave university, join the army, and start a new life. His mind was on special forces, and when he got to know PJ, he signed up.

He had never heard of parachuting before. But what he learned after joining the army made him even more excited. The lineage of the unit can be traced back to 1943 during the Second World War. A C-46 failed, and dozens of pilots it carried escaped in the jungle between China and today's Myanmar. The only way to reach these people is by plane. So, two medical soldiers jumped down and stayed with these people for more than a month, taking care of the injuries until they were safe. By the time of the Vietnam War, Pararescue became an official unit, wearing its iconic maroon beret, its color symbolizing its blood sacrifice, and its symbol: an angel embracing the earth. The official motto: "We do these things so that others can survive."

However, for many in the armed forces, PJ is a cowboy. The PJs embraced this image and tattooed green footprints on their buttocks to commemorate their wild heritage. This is the footprint left by the impression of PJ helicopters on the landing field in Vietnam. Their wild heritage contains many examples: PJ jumps from an exploding helicopter with the patient, PJ flies into a hurricane and 80-foot waves, PJ hits the bullet in the head and returns to the fight. A story tells the story of two PJs wrestling in a hut in Afghanistan after a grenade rolled; everyone tried to protect each other, fighting over who should save whom. The grenade never detonated.

Whether it is cowboy or not, pajamas are one of the most watched recruits. They are also one of the well-trained people. PJ "Pipeline" is a nearly two-year training program, starting in Texas, and then spreading across the country-Florida, Washington, Georgia, California, Arizona, New Mexico-is the world’s One of the longest special operations training courses. It turns every recruit into paramedics, paratroopers, combat divers, and elite archers. Only 20% of new employees passed the pipeline. Pararescue is one of the organizations with the highest attrition rate in the U.S. military.

Learning all these things has never discouraged Saint Claire. Challenges will only motivate him. He got a basic training date. Then he was shipped to Texas. There is nothing to prepare him for what is waiting.

St. Claire stood on the burning corpse. They were scorched from head to toe, their limbs hung in the air, looking almost mummified; the skin on one of them was scorched to the bones. However, these people did not die of burns, but of suffocation: the high temperature damaged their throat tissue, causing leakage and swelling of the throat and blocking the airways. The men choked up.

When the other PJs unloaded their equipment and began to treat the sailors, St. Clair, the other PJ and the second mate on the ship pulled the corpses into the bag, and then took them to the meat cabinet under the deck. After the body was moved, St. Clair climbed back to the main deck and then went up the stairs to the bedroom, where there were two survivors-Borut, 24, from Koper, a small city in Slovenia; and Philip**, from Manila-working hard. Go down. Without intervention, their throats will swell and their airways will close.

PJ's plane has turned back west. The Tamar ship now continues to the east, towards the Azores, still more than four hundred miles away. In the next two days, PJ will be the only hope for the two sailors.

St. Claire dived into the sailor's cabin. He walked through a small bathroom and walked into an open bedroom, the air filled with the stench of sweat, burnt flesh and vomit. Inside, Borut and Philip lie in adjacent cribs. PJ transformed the room into a fully functional temporary intensive care unit: they filled the space with medical equipment, turned bedside tables into surgical trays, and opened a window on the back wall to let in fresh air. Look out the window, over the stern, over the water. The ambient hum of marine engines is usually filtered through openings. At present, the engine was drowned out by screams.

He uttered a long gargle shout, mixed with Tagalog and bad English—"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you are helping me"—and then more screams.

When the PJs first assessed him, Borut was calm: sitting on the bed, drinking iced tea with a crew member. However, his face and arms were scorched, the hair on his head was burned, and the contours of his cheekbones, ears and jaw were covered by swelling. He also lost a lot of body fluids due to cell damage. Although he was at risk of further dehydration after vomiting, his burns made intravenous fluids infeasible. Once PJ took painkillers, they would be forced to drill into Borut's tibia, replenishing fluid through his bone marrow. Philip had suffered similar wounds before and now receives the same treatment. But his pain was more obvious, and with PJ's treatment and movement, he became restless. He uttered a long gargle shout, mixed with Tagalog and bad English—"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you are helping me"—and then more screams. Neither of them can barely see.

The sailors were about to suffocate, and St. Clair knew what had to be done: PJ had to intubate the rapidly contracting airways of the two and slide down the tube connected to the oxygen supply. They will try the simplest route first: through the mouth and throat. The agreement states that if this does not work after the third attempt, if the swelling blocks the passage, the PJ must try to bypass the blockage by passing directly through the neck. This procedure is called cricothyroidectomy and involves cutting a hole in the throat by piercing the membrane. The tube will be inserted through this hole. This is a last resort because the incision is close to the patient's artery. In this case, Borut and Philip's necks were severely swollen and disfigured, so they could only use their fingers to blindly decide where to cut.

Borut leaned on his cot, panting. Putting his hands on his knees, his voice almost disappeared, and he turned to PJ to ask for relief. "Make it easier," he pleaded. "Please, cut my throat."

St. Clair arrives at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Since then, he has embarked on a two-year PJ journey. He learned to jump from a plane, descend from a helicopter, perform trauma surgery in battle, and survive in the wild. In a period of training nicknamed "Superman School", he learned the skills of survival in the water. He was ordered to jump into the pool, his hands and feet tied together with rope. He was ordered to swim the entire pool underwater. Then dive to the bottom and take off his mask with his teeth. The coach calls these exercises "drowning prevention". The swimming pool caused most recruits to resign.

St. Clair succeeded. He survived the swimming pool and moved to Albuquerque to complete his training. There, he met Joyce. When he graduated and was assigned to his first job site, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, he moved to the desert with Joyce. Upon arrival, they learned that three PJs, including a pilot St. Clair knew from the pipeline, had died in Afghanistan. When the plane was hit by a rocket and crashed, PJ had been in a helicopter. A PJ was only six weeks after his first deployment. Soon after, Saint Clair learned of his own deployment. He will go there: Afghanistan.

Before he left, he drove back to Albuquerque where Joyce was hospitalized. There, Joyce gave birth to their son. In May of the following year, in 2011, St. Clair deployed. He is 24 years old.

He spent the eve before the war in a hotel room in Germany. He has his own room and spent a sleepless night staring at a place on the ceiling. When he entered the basic stage three years ago, it was estimated that the ratio of wounded to killed soldiers in Afghanistan was 6.4. Many people died on the battlefield long before reaching the military hospital. Those who were able to reach the hospital maintained a survival rate close to 90%. In 2008, the Department of Defense refocused its focus on prioritizing response efficiency. This means more helicopter teams and more PJs. By that year, in 2011, the ratio of wounded to dead had almost doubled to 12.4; if wounded, soldiers are now twice as likely to survive. Saint Clair stared at the ceiling. The war did not scare him. He only worried that he would fail.

The cabin had now become an operating room, and it had calmed down, with pajamas crowded around Borut. They sedated him and started the first procedure: intubation through the mouth. To assess the degree of swelling, they put a video laryngoscope into his throat. The hook device displays on the small screen the anatomical structures that they must bypass—the uvula, the epiglottis, the vocal cords—all of which are severely swollen. They took off the camera and began to intubate. The tube slowly entered the mouth. But the first attempt failed, and the tube was stuck in his throat. The second time, Borut, who was still in a coma, vomited. PJ turned him over to him, sucked out the vomit, and then started their third and final attempt. St. Clair is in charge of this procedure. He slowly moved the tube down, past the uvula, epiglottis, and vocal cords. The intubation was successful; Borut’s lungs were filled with fresh oxygen, he put on a ventilator and his condition stabilized. Pajamas can temporarily relax.

More than five hours have passed since PJ arrived at Tamar. They lack sleep, are exhausted, and run out of adrenaline. Some of them are still wearing dry suits. Outside, the deck of the ship was quiet, except for the motor, and the surrounding humming noise was now coming from the open windows.

Although Borut's airway is safe, his limbs need continuous medical attention. Burns are like tourniquets, restricting blood flow to the limbs, causing cell death and blackening of the limbs. In order to avoid cell death and amputation, PJ must tear Borut's skin and promote fresh blood circulation until rescue comes. In order to keep his limbs, they would make him bleed.

However, before the limb surgery, PJ turned his attention to Philip and his respiratory tract. When the painkillers took effect, he fell silent, and his screams were replaced by words and occasionally calling one of the pajamas. Now, he became silent. He began to purse his lips, like a horse, breathing hard.

Pajamas sent the camera into Philip's throat. His body has been swollen beyond recognition. Regardless, PJ tried to intubate the tube through the mouth, but the tube was blocked and the attempt failed. Philip's condition is now rapidly deteriorating. PJs have no choice; they have to cross their necks.

Saint Clair watched the formation of the first incision: straight down from Adam's apple, opening an entrance to the inner membrane. Blood and fluid outside of the bloodstream overflow through the incision. St. Claire took the scalpel. He leaned on the patient, ready to make a second incision. But the fluid and swelling prevented him from finding the membrane. He will have to feel it and then pierce blindly.

He touches the organization. Then, Saint Clair pinched the tissue back and cut through the membrane into Philip's throat.

In May 2011, the St. Clair landed in Afghanistan. Almost immediately, he took off again by helicopter. The Afghan sky was shrouded in smoke and the smell of burning-burned farmland, burned hay, burned garbage-and heat, which stuck to his face, mixed with burning garbage, and crawled into it. His nose. The sun shines on the farmland. For the first time in battle, he locked and loaded his M-4 by wire.

His first task was to extract a dehydrated British soldier. This is not an honorable task, but St. Clair is very happy with this experience. Soon, he would perform more than a dozen missions every day, going back and forth to the base, and every time he traveled, he rescued multiple patients, treated them, handed them to medical units on the ground, and then went to more. During these twelve-hour shifts, he had enough time to sleep, eat, and exercise. Many shifts are in the evening. During his five months there, St. Clair treated more than 400 American and coalition soldiers, contractors, Afghan soldiers, police and civilians.

In one mission, he rescued an American soldier, a triple amputee who was torn apart by an improvised explosive device explosion. This day is significant; 7,600 miles away, his son is celebrating his first birthday. St. Clair is homesick. He felt guilty. But he knew he was needed there, in Afghanistan. He is playing a role.

He rescued an American soldier, a triple amputee who was torn apart by an improvised explosive device explosion. 7,600 miles away, his son is celebrating his first birthday.

Despite this, 2011 has proven to be the most expensive year for the US military so far. In July, St. Clair's friend was shot dead while rescuing a Marine Corps suppressed by insurgents. The bullet bounced off the door of the helicopter, tearing his legs. He survived and returned home, where his left leg was amputated.

Saint Clair went home in September, the day after his 25th birthday. Seven months later, he returned to Afghanistan for another tour, then rotated to Japan, and moved again with Joyce and their son. There, the couple gave birth to their second son, and St. Claire decided it was time to stop moving. He was transferred from active duty to the National Guard on Long Island until the 103rd. The family moved to Long Island, New York. They bought a house with a swimming pool, a small piece of wood and a large backyard to raise their two sons. St. Clair commutes to work, prepares for future deployment, receives training, and stands by at any time. That was 2017. This time, life is relatively normal.

Then, one early morning on April 24, 2017, his cell phone rang. His professional text: "I need you to come in. Something is brewing."

The major shouted a time warning on the deck, and PJ was ready to evacuate the patient. It was already the morning of the third day. The low clouds are falling here and there, like pieces of torn pieces on a churning ocean. A Portuguese helicopter appeared on the horizon.

Since the last operation, time has become blurred. Tired, pajamas are already on shift. Some people will eat and rest. Others will maintain patient care. They cut along the limbs of Borut and Philip, hoping to avoid future amputations. They cleaned these wounds and monitored the condition of the sailors around the clock. Earlier that morning, it was time for rescue. PJ put the two sailors onto the stretcher and carefully moved them from the external stairwell to the deck of the ship. They are waiting there now.

Portuguese helicopter approached Tamar. The pilot flew downwind and stabilized the helicopter on the moving ship. PJ helped lift the sailor into the helicopter. Then the pilot turned and flew east back to Lisbon. PJ's mission is over.

When St. Clair watched the helicopter disappear into the water, he thought of home. Joyce has been receiving the latest news from the base, but she has not heard from St Clair for three days. He left without a chance to say goodbye.

The sun will be pieced together. The islands of the Azores bloom along the horizon. Signal returned to PJ's call, and St. Clair made the call.

When he graduated from plumbing years ago, he didn't have green footprints on his ass. He strung a reminder to the future on his left leg: "A pint of sweat can save a gallon of blood." On the other hand, he has a gray stone statue printed on a sleeve with two signs of life: a begonia flower, Just like the one in his childhood home, representing his mother, and a pigeon, Joyce.

She answered the phone. Then handed the phone to a boy. The boy was about to be eight years old, he wanted to know where his father had been, and Saint Claire provided the best summary he could do. "Dad is on the boat helping people injured in the fire," he said. Then, his second son answered the phone. Saint Clair once again said to his three-year-old: "Dad... on the boat."

Then, the most important thing is: "Dad is going home."

After sailing for three days at sea, the nineteen men who participated in the "Tamar" mission returned to New York. Although their achievements in their hometown were never recognized, they became national heroes in Borut's hometown of Slovenia. A month later, the team was awarded the Medal of Merit in the Military Field of Slovenia by President Borut Pahor. The two sailors arrived at a Lisbon hospital shortly after being rescued. Although more than half of his body was burned (which prompted him to undergo several consecutive reconstructive surgeries), Borut only lost two nails on his fingertips. Although Philip was also burned, he miraculously escaped the amputation. The two have since returned home.

The previous version of this article referred to the subject as "soldier". This article has been updated to more accurately reflect their title as "pilots".

*English stone. Claire has nothing to do with the author. **Some names have changed in this story.