The U.S.A.F. Pararescue teams are the Air Force's elite medical forces that are capable of supplying trama and medical assistance for not only downed pilots or ground crew but also special operations forces and units. They are highly trained during a grueling phase that washes out the vast majority of applicants. In addition to their excellent medical training, Pararescue members are trained in parachute insertions (including jumoing into heavily forested environments or water), waterborne ops including SCUBA, heliborne operational proceedures, and also patrolling techniques they may need when attached to a larger ground force or small Special Operations unit. Pararescue are also tasked with search and rescue missions into a wide variety or terrains and regions. Their SAR missions include:
Search and Rescue operations
NASA Space Shuttle launch support
Downed aircrew and aircraft recovery
The history of U.S.A.F. Pararescue dates back to 1942 when the first airborne rescue team was deployed in the Philippines. One year later a three man team (only one of which was parachute qualified) jumped into the Burmese forest to lead 21 people out who had been stranded after being forced to bail out of their aircraft (a C-46 commando). The team, one officer and two medical corpsmen, tended for the group for over a month as they led them out of the uncharted jungle and back to allied lines.
After the Air Force became its own separate entity in 1947, five pararescue teams were formed. By 1952 the Air Force could deploy 45 seven-man teams globally as part of the ARCS (Air Resupply and Communications Service). These Pararescue teams saw action during the Korean War as part of the UN effort to fight off the invading North Korean and Chinese forces. In one case a British pilot who had crashed 75 miles behind enemy lines was pulled from his aircraft and carried back to a waiting helicopter. This despite the fact that he out-weighed the Paradoctor by 40 pounds; however the intense small-arms fire they were taking could have provided a lot of motivation.
During the late 1950s the Air Force began to downsize the Pararescue teams. This did not stop them from continueing to adapt and developing many of the paraSCUBA techniques used the world over today. It was at this time that the Para rescue teams began operating with NASA, an arrangement that has lead to their current assignment as NASA Space Shuttle launch support. During this period they also made many top secret deployments, possibly to S.E. Asia in support of Army Special Forces projects.
The Vietnam War was a pivotal conflict for the Pararescue teams. The Air Force's scope of operations became so large that demand for Pararescue teams expanded as well. The use of helicopters caused new tactics utilizing the speed, distance, and support they could provide. Rescue "packages" were created utilizing FACs (Forward Air Controllers), rescue escorts (such as AH-1 Cobras or A-1 Sandys), protective fighter CAP (Combat Air Patrol), and the HH-53 Jolly Green helicopter to provide fast rescue for pilots shot down far behind enemy lines. Pararescue personell were part of these packages to provide medical assistance for injured aircrew as well as the ability to patrol for missing aircrew that might have been unconscious or dead.
Pararescue team members would be inserted to conduct LSO (Limited Surface Operations) searches while the escorts maintained an aggressive patrol to provide instantaneous support. Sometimes they would be inserted to search for personnel who were being forced to escape and evade; in such cases the mission might last for days. The Pararescue teams racked up an impressive record; during the conflict only 19 Airmen were awarded the Air Force Cross. Ten of those were awarded to Pararescuemen.
After the War there once again losses in team size, but they continued to be called on. In additional to their normal SAR duties they also took part in many of the operations the US took part in during the 1980's. Pararescue were attached to US Forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, and during the 1989 invasion of Panama during operation Just Cause. Pararescue also took part in the 1991 Gulf War, attached to Air Force CSAR units that were responsible for the rescues of shot-down pilots, just as their predecessors had done in the Vietnam War. After the way the Pararescuemen were instrumental in the airlift of aid to Kurds in northern Iraq who were being persecuted by vengeful members of the Iraqi military.
A little known fact is that Pararescue were on hand after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco that destroyed buildings and collapsed bridges and highway overpasses. They volunteered to work between the collapsed layers of highways, even though they were still shifting and collapsing and there was serious risk of aftershocks that could cause them to completely collapse. Pararescue were the only persons to so volunteer; they were the only ones to initially pull traped people from crushed cars that nearly became their coffins.
During 1995, Pararescue were attached to Task Force Ranger, the US group that was deployed to Somolia to try and protect the aid workers who were being harrased and killed by warring factions of Somoli's. During one mission to capture one of the warlords, a US helicopter was shot down and members of its crew badly injured or killed. Pararescue and Combat Controllers were immediately on the scene to attempt to extracate the wounded and dead from the destroyed aircraft and save their lives. Due to their efforts two crewmen were saved and the bodies of the two killed pilots were recovered.
Pararescuement are trained to excell, starting with a grueling selection phase that has a very high failure rate. After surviving the courses members of the Pararescue teams are authorized to wear the special maroon beret, symbolizing the blood of those Pararescue lost trying to save lives in the past.