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A look inside Davis-Monthan's 943rd Rescue Group

Posted at 5:39 PM, May 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-10 11:58:23-04
Their job is to fly into the most dangerous situations and save lives. And many of them carry on full-time jobs outside of the Air Force at the same time.
 
That's what makes the 943rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base so unique. They are a reserve unit, meaning the majority of the group's 500 plus members work civilian jobs outside D-M's gates. 
 
This group includes a highly trained group of elite Pararescuemen tasked with recovering personnel from anywhere in the world. 
 
"We'll go out for anybody," said one of the 943rd's Pararescuemen Chris. "Our mission is 'that others may live' and it really doesn't matter who that happens to be. If we receive a mission to go save a life, we'll go do that." 
 
For security purposes, we are only using Chris' first name. He says their motto, 'that others may live,' is something he and his fellow Pararescuemen think about every minute of every day. 
 
"If we're jumping out of a plane, I'm thinking about that procedure and what it takes to do it but the reason I'm jumping out of the plane is because that others may live," said Chris.
 
They train to prepare for dangerous situations overseas but a large part of this group's mission also takes place here at home.
 
In 2011, members of this group helped rescue three people who crashed in a Pima County Sheriff's Department helicopter. 
 
"It just happened that we were out flying around and heard a call for help if you will regarding a crashed helicopter and we just kind of rolled in, did what we could," said Lt. Col. Nathan Horner, director of operations for the 305th Rescue Squadron. 
 
The crash happened in January, 2011 when a PCSD helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain northwest of Tucson. 
 
The four-person crew was scouting an area for radio communication towers when they crashed. Loren Leonberger, a civilian pilot for the sheriff's department, died in the crash. 
 
Members of the 943rd Rescue Group helped saved the three other crew members and got them to safety. 
 
"It was just another day," said Horner. "I don't want to say it was like training but we do it so often and we train so often that it essentially is like training. There are some real people and real lives at stake at that moment in time."
 
Also part of the flight crew is Master Sgt. Anthony Truesdell, a special missions aviator who sits in the back of the helicopter and backs up the pilots on flights.
 
"It's the Special Mission Aviator's job to defend the aircraft so we would man the guns in the event of the rescue," said Truesdell. 
 
He says they train tirelessly for the worst case scenario. 
 
"If somebody here in Arizona needs help, it's easier than our typical overseas mission," said Truesdell. "So if tasked to do, for example that Sheriff's rescue, or we had a rescue a couple months ago where we helped out another government agency, if tasked to do those things, it's not as strenuous as a task as it would be if we didn't train for that worst case scenario all the time."
 
This same group also helped rescue people trapped in flood waters during Hurricane Katrina. 
     
Col. John Beatty is the commander of the 943rd Rescue Group and says they saved over 1,000 people during the three weeks they were there.  
 
"I'm most proud of the fact that we've been able to save the lives that we have and that the families that have been reunited as a result of our efforts," said Beatty. 
 
In addition to elite Pararescuemen and flight crews, the 943rd Rescue Group also includes a dedicated support staff that is critical to the group's mission. 
 
"Those guys get the limelight which they should because they do a great mission and it's very, very dangerous," said Lt. Col. Sherard Dorroh, the 943rd Rescue Group mission support flight commander. "We make sure behind the scenes is taken care of so they're able to go out there and do that and we love it, we have no problem being behind the scenes." 
 
Dorroh says the behind the scenes component includes mainly logistics and family support. They take care of things like promotions, financial issues and deployment schedules so those performing the mission aren't distracted. 
 
"When you're out there doing those things, you have to be laser focused at any point in time," said Dorroh. "You never know what's going to happen. These guys get shot at everyday, they're hanging off of cliffs trying to take care of people that they're trying to rescue so you don't want any distractions." 
 
Another important aspect of the 943rd Rescue Group is maintenance, both of equipment and the aircraft. 
 
Senior Airman Scott Dinsdale packs parachutes for the Pararescuemen and says they have to be very detail oriented. 
 
"I mean you're dealing with somebody's life so one little mistake, you don't want to think about that," said Dinsdale. 
 
When it comes to maintaining the 943rd Rescue Group's aircraft, Staff Sgt. Jose Fuentes says they do routine maintenance on the HH-60 Pavehawk everyday and about every 600 flight hours, they take the entire helicopter apart. 
 
"I like to say that since we're a helicopter, we don't have the chance to call a mayday mayday and make it to an airport," said Fuentes. "If something happens to our aircraft, it could go straight down so that's why it's very critical that we pay close attention to everything that we do." 
 
While maintaining the aircraft is essential to this group's mission, maintaining the health of the elite Pararescuemen is equally important. 
 
That's where the work of the 943rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron comes in. Lt. Col. Lisa Mihora is a flight surgeon and says her job is to keep the force healthy and fit. 
 
"I like to say we maintain the human weapons system," said Mihora. "So we do that through preventative medical readiness. Basically our job is to make sure all of our rescue personnel are fit, fit to do their duty, fit to deploy and fit to deploy at a moments notice." 
 
She says because of the circumstances the Pararescuemen go in to, they have a unique set of physiological stressors. 
 
"They're going in to help an injured member so you do want them at tip-top shape," said Mihora. "They're going in at adverse conditions, they're rappelling a lot of maneuvers that take a lot of physical prowess and physical enduring." 
 
Also part of the 943rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron is Maj. Joel Lucero, a critical care nurse who helps maintain the Pararescuemen's training in emergency medicine. 
 
To simulate real world scenarios, they use a mannequin that comes as close to real life as possible. 
 
"We can bring the PJs over and train them using a monitor and this mannequin can also simulate seizures...it can bleed, we have a cut suit for him we can put on, they can perform minor surgeries on them," said Lucero.
 
All of these pieces come together to form the 943rd Rescue Group and everyone works together toward the mission of rescuing personnel in dangerous situations. 
 
"'That others may live' is the Air Force Rescue motto," said Col. John Beatty. "It reminds us that we're part of something bigger than ourselves and that the stakes are high because lives are on the line."