Heritage and History

The Beginning

The history of Pararescue began in August of 1943, when 21 persons bailed out of a disabled C-46 over an uncharted jungle near the China-Burma border. So remote was the crash site that the only means of getting help to the survivors was by paradrop.

Lieutenant Colonel Don Fleckinger and two medical corpsmen volunteered for the assignment. This paradrop of medical corpsmen was the seed from which the concept of Pararescue was born.  For a month these men, aided by natives, cared for the injured until the party was brought to safety.

News commentator Eric Severeid was one of the men to survive this ordeal.  He later wrote of the men who risked their lives to save his: “Gallant is a precious word; they deserve it”.

From this event the need for a highly trained rescue force was found; thus, Pararescueman was brought into being.

Since that first rescue, rescues since then have occurred in virtually every corner of the world.  Airmen, soldiers, and civilians have had first hand experience - when trouble strikes, Pararescuemen are ready to come to their aide.

NASA, Skylab and the Space Shuttle

One of the most dramatic events involving Pararescue and PARA-SCUBA operations was at the termination of the Gemini 8 space flight.

When the decision was made to halt the mission due to difficulties encountered by Astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong, rescue forces on alert at stations in the Far East went into action.
A rescue crew from Naha Air Base, Okinawa, flew to the predicted splashdown area and arrived in time to see the spacecraft hit the water. Three Pararescuemen parachuted into the ocean and had flotation equipment attached within 20 minutes.

The Pararescuemen stayed with the astronauts until a Navy destroyer arrived.

Pararescuemen provided continued support to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Skylab missions and provided rescue support to the space shuttle program. Pararescuemen train continuously to remain responsive to NASA’s needs.

Operational Training

Formal training for a Pararescueman is a never ending gauntlet. Continually perfecting  procedures while constantly searching for new operational methods led to a major development in waterborne operations when Parachuting and SCUBA operations evolved into a practical insertion technique.

The PARA-SCUBA equipped Pararescueman carries 170 pounds, or more of equipment as he leaves the ramp of an aircraft.

Humanitarian Action

The primary purpose of Pararescue is to save lives. The work of the Pararescuemen is an important phase of the rescue concept. In a two week period, Pararescuemen were called upon to aid two Russian transport merchant seamen in two different areas.

The first mission involved a badly burned sailor on a Russian transport vessel in the Atlantic, 700 miles from the nearest land. Two Pararescuemen, stationed in the Azores were flown to the Russian ship. They parachuted near the ship and treated the sailor until the ship reached port days later saving his life.

Two weeks later another distress call from a Russian ship was relayed. This time the ship was a fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast. A team of three Pararescuemen from Portland parachuted into the Pacific. They treated the Russian sailor for serious back and head injuries caused by the fall. When the ship was close enough, a Coast Guard vessel picked up the sailor and took him ashore to a hospital.
In 1989, Pararescuemen were instrumental in recovering and treating injured motorists at a collapsed section of highway following a devastating earthquake in the San Francisco, California area.

Pararescuemen were the only rescue people “on-scene” who would volunteer to crawl between the sections of collapsed highway to assess conditions and recover casualties. In recognition of the selfless dedication to saving lives President Bush personally recognized the heroic actions of these men.

Mission Readiness

Air Force Pararescue is the only United States Department of Defense elite combat force specifically organized, trained, equipped, and postured to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery to include both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations.

These Battlefield Airmen are the most highly trained and versatile personnel recovery specialists in the world.

Pararescue is the nation’s force of choice to execute the most perilous, demanding, and extreme rescue missions anytime, anywhere across the globe.

Critical Mission Areas

The Guardian Angel Family of Systems is comprised of nine critical mission areas:

  • Precision Aerial Insertion
  • Information Management
  • Force Application
  • Visual Augmentation
  • Maritime Recovery
  • Ground Mobility
  • Technical Rescue
  • Medical
  • SERE (Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape)

Guardian Angel is focused on maintaining legacy weapon system capability while modernizing/improving subsystems for better mission effectiveness.

Guardian Angel Systems

Pararescuemen, a.k.a., Guardian Angel is an Air Force non-aircraft weapon system within the overarching Battlefield Airmen Modernization program. Guardian Angel is a Family of Systems based in both human and equipment capabilities formulated to execute Air Force Personnel Recovery across the full spectrum of military operations.

Established by the Air Force Chief of Staff in 2003 and officially captured in AFPD 10-9, the Guardian Angel Family of Systems is employed by three distinct Air Force specialties: Pararescuemen (PJ), Combat Rescue Officer (CRO), and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE).