PJ earns combat mission ready status preparing for space shuttle launch

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Cathleen Snow
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
The rescue wing mantra ‘these things we do that others may live' employs vast skills that take pararescuemen (PJs) through a whirlwind journey of intense physical and mental demands; a typical day's training for the 308th Rescue Squadron.

This day, June 20th, in typical PJ fashion, Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Russell Drake successfully earned his combat mission ready status, while he and his teammates trained for the upcoming space shuttle launch.

Mission briefings laid out the day's events for Staff Sgt Drake and other members of the 308th RS: Master Sgt. James Johnston, Master Sgt. John Shiman, Master Sgt. Alexander Abbey, and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Curl, long time members of the squadron.

The five were on hand to accomplish this high profile training, referred to as a RAMZ (Rigging Alternate Method Zodiac) deployment. Instead of being inflated during the parachute drop, this Zodiac (an inflatable motorized boat) is deflated and bundled up into a four foot cube. The engine, fuel and medical equipment are also in the package. Two cargo parachutes are attached.

The acronym doesn't mean much to the average person, but in essence, "A RAMZ deployment is a technique developed for astronaut recovery, and other open water rescues, to include combat," said the Chief.

With the next space shuttle launch days away and a plan on hand, these men embarked on a search and rescue training mission with Chief Master Sgt Curl evaluating Sergeant Drake every step of the way.

The initial phase included preparing and loading the RAMZ aboard an HC-130 aircraft for deployment at Judy Drop Zone located in the Banana River, a stone's throw away from Patrick Air Force Base. The airplane will climb to 3,500 feet as the men prepare for a freefall parachute jump. When it's time they will follow the RAMZ off the back ramp of the aircraft during the same deployment pass.

In addition to the evaluation for Sergeant Drake, the other pararescuemen are accomplishing recurring training for freefall parachuting and RAMZ deployments.

Many other support personnel are involved during these exercises. Tech. Sgt. Eric Wenseritt, the squadron vehicle maintenance non commissioned officer in charge, is also a qualified boat master. He's piloting the safety boat and clearing the drop zone of civilian vessels. On the aircraft's third pass, he communicates the "clear to drop" to the aircrew above.

In an instant the men clear out of the aircraft and pull their rip chords. The parachutes open at 3000 feet, allowing them to waft slowly down to the water below.

One after the other the PJs plunge safely into the water and shed their parachutes for the next phase of the recovery; inflating and starting the Zodiac.

As it bobs up and down, the PJs wrestle with the Zodiac while it inflates. Once aboard, Sergeant Drake pulls the engine chord numerous times to de-water the engine, attaches the fuel line, and gets the boat under way.

At this point, "everything is going as planned," said Chief Curl. As the sun goes down, the men navigate to their objective, a PJ trainee, SrA Andy Holzem, playing the role of survivor. Sergeants Abbey, Drake and Johnston climb onto the support vessel and begin the final phase of their training; administering medical care to the survivor.

In addition to Sergeant Drake's evaluation, a Florida Today news photographer and I, the public affairs officer, are documenting the training for upcoming news articles.

Sergeant Drake undergoes more mental scrutiny as his evaluator observes his rapid assessment of his patient's condition. Drake analyzes the chief's administrative inputs and assesses the patient while following his medical checklist. At times he stops to document the patient's vitals and take in the array of information the Chief provides.

As the boat rocks, Sergeant Drake prepares an intravenous injection (IV) set. He inserts a 16-gauge catheter into the patient's arm and attaches the line. Good fluid flow indicates a successful insertion. He secures the injection site. During the entire procedure he's evaluated on proper sterile technique. No pressure.

Finally the Chief is satisfied that Drake performed optimally. Although, their day is not over until their parachutes are rinsed free of saltwater and their equipment is in tow.

As the exercise winds down, night is upon the rescuers.

"Staff Sgt Drake performed very well. All areas evaluated were accomplished thoroughly and professionally," said Chief Curl. Which he said is a reflection of the quality of training Staff Sgt Drake received from Pararescue School and his instructors at the 308th Rescue Squadron.

On this ‘typical PJ day' Staff Sgt Drake joins the ranks of his fellow pararescuemen as combat mission ready. He's ready to put his skills into action saving lives during peace or war.

All in a day's work so that other may live.