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That Others May Live

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November 20, 2003

Lowndes County - As the battle to secure Iraq and the war on terror continues, the jobs of those trained to rescue troops in harms way becomes more important.

Some of these heroes train right here in South Georgia at Moody Air Force Base. They're among the most daring and elite in the U.S. military, trained to venture into unknown territory to rescue troops who are wounded, stranded, or taken hostage.

From 1500 feet in the sky, they step out of a HH-60 helicopter and into thin air. "If you imagine that first initial drop off of a roller coaster, just extend that for about 6 or 7 seconds," said Captain John Dobbin.

Moody's 38th Rescue Squadron is always on a mission to save lives. "Our basic job is combat recovery, recovery of survivors, or stranded personnel," said Master Sergeant John Kingsley.

In less than two minutes, they're on the ground, gathering their gear, and on through the wood line to rescue a stranded soldier. They'll go through any environment, and get to their target anyway they can. "We can get in by vehicle, walk in, swim in, anything it takes," said Kingsley.

After a dangerous manhunt through thick woods and unknown territory, the stranded survivor is found and guided back to his unit. "It's very satisfying to return somebody back home and get them back to safety," said Dobbin.

But sometimes, those they're rescuing are more than just stranded. In this case, its an airman in severe pain with a broken leg. The pararescuemen make a leg splint from their life saving gear and prepare for extraction. Another successful rescue complete. "A pararescueman is the most elite medic you can think of," said Dobbin. "He can take someone from a life threatening situation and do what it takes to make that situation better."

Such missions are a good taste of a real combat recovery. "We're out training for war and we want to make it as intense as possible because war is very intense," said Kingsley. But no training can compare to the satisfaction of the real thing. "You've got sons and daughters out there in the military that have moms and dads and their kids really want to see them again, and it takes a certain individual to do that for them," said Dobbin.

When pararescuemen step out of a plane and into the air, they never know what threats may lie ahead. The dangers of their job have become clearer than ever over the past two years...they've lost three members of their squadron in the War on Terror. "They all were excellent operators and they made the entire Air Force and D.O.D. proud," said Dobbin.

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was killed March 5, 2002 while trying to rescue wounded troops in Afghanistan. His MD-47 helicopter was shot down behind enemy lines. Master Sergeant Michael Maltz and Senior Airman Jason Plite were killed March 23, 2003 when their HH-60 helicopter crashed on a mission to rescue injured Afghani children. "It's always sad to lose somebody but that's a calculated risk you're taking when you come into a job like this, that you're prepared to give your life so that somebody else can live theirs," said Dobbin.

Losing a fellow airmen reminds them of the dangers, but makes the job that much more important. "It gives you a sense of your own mortality, but I think it makes us want to do the job even more," said Kingsley.

Doing a job that's a living example of the squadron's motto, "These things we do that others may live."

posted at 2:55 by ashley.harper@walb.com