MELBOURNE, Fla. --
“That others may live.”
To a pararecueman, this is the motto, creed and essence of what it means to be part of the Air Force’s guardian angel community. Through every war or conflict, this creed has created a brotherhood bonded through legacy - one continuing to be written.
At the 2016 Pararescue Reunion in Melbourne, Florida, Active Duty, Guard and Reserve pararescuemen, also known as PJs, joined those that came before them to exchange stories, reminisce on missions and share in the thrill and excitement of a skills competition.
“The rodeo and reunion is a good chance for the old guys to see what the new guys are up to, and for the young guys to see what has changed since our day,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Koester, the longest serving PJ in Air Force history with 41 years of service. “It definitely strengthens the bonds of brotherhood. It’s also about remembering those who have gone before us.”
The reunion brought in more than 600 retired and currently-serving PJs and their families to the beaches near Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Some of the prior PJs are highly decorated in the pararescue career field and served as examples of what it means to leave a legacy.
One of those attendees was retired Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Fisk, a recipient of two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals to name a few. The 17-year PJ said the legacy of pararescue is rooted deep within the PJ creed.
“The legacy of pararescue is giving,” said Fisk. “It is self-sacrifice, service to others before self and in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice. Our motto, ‘that others may live,’ rings true in our specialty. We are just individual players in the reinforcement of the motto.”
For an experienced man like Fisk, he said seeing current PJs who hone the same traits as he and his brothers exemplified while serving, gives him a sense of pride for his time wearing the coveted maroon beret.
“When we see these warriors of today and the pride they exude, it fires us retirees up,” added Fisk. “We see these young troops and look at them with awe; we must have served well, because they are following in our footsteps and making them bigger. When I see these studs out there doing this PJ thing and see how much better they are – that is legacy.”
The sentiment of legacy was not lost on the current guardian angels.
For 2nd Lt. Daniel Warren, a combat rescue officer for the 212th Rescue Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and former enlisted PJ of 10 years, the career field was a dream because of men like Fisk.
“Since 9th grade I always wanted to be a PJ,” said Warren. “I’ve researched it, and a lot of that research was on these guys here and other PJs who paved the way. Now that I’ve done some PJ stuff myself, and gotten to meet these older guys, it’s a shared bond you’re never going to find with anyone else.”
While PJs from near and far shared their perspective on leaving a legacy, it was someone outside the career field who provoked thought about what it means to serve as a pararescuman.
Retired Col. Kurt Buller was a former special tactics officer who served as a commander of battlefield Airmen such as PJs, combat controllers, tactical air control party troops, and special operations weathermen. He has lost 28 men since 9/11 in the mission of saving lives and defending freedom. The men in attendance at the reunion and those represented by them are war fighters who live and die by a code explained Buller.
“Everyone in this room is a hero; you went out there, you were given a task and you executed it to standard,” said Buller. “We take lives and save lives - not God-like, but with a code. When this country requires us to fight, we go out and fight.”
The legacy we leave is more important than the lineage we inherit, and when it comes to the pararescue force, the legacy is earned. These elite warriors have performed over 12,000 life-saving, combat rescue missions since 9/11. They've also eliminated and captured enemy combatants during the execution of these missions.
“You gotta risk your life to save a buddy to the left and right, you gotta risk your life to save someone caught in a crossfire,” said Buller. “And then when the fighting is over, you gotta to risk your life to save the enemy. Taking lives and saving lives – that’s the legacy of this force. And it is a noble one.”