Michael's Dispatches



14 September 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

With the war increasing, Air Force Pararescue has been crisscrossing the skies picking up casualties.

That’s the Green Zone of Helmand Province, the opium capital of the world.  Those fields are the great ATM of our enemies here.  The fertilizer used to make those fields green is the same fertilizer used to make countless bombs.

We are flying in a special U.S. Air Force Pavehawk helicopter to fetch a seriously ill British soldier.

In Iraq, many of the casevacs were done by ground forces.  In other words, if we hit a bomb or got shot, soldiers would load up the dead and wounded and rush them to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital or “cash”).  But in Afghanistan most of the fighting occurs outside the cities and far away from the base hospitals.  Rescue helicopters stationed at places like Bagram, Kandahar Airfield and Camp Bastion have been flying thousands of missions.

Air Force Rescue Helicopters launching on a mission from Camp Bastion.

There are numerous helicopter rescue “services” in Afghanistan.  For instance, the British have MERTs (Medical Emergency Response Teams) that fly in a CH-47, and the U.S. Army uses Pavehawks as does the U.S. Air Force.  Special operations teams normally cover their own evacuations.

This U.S. Army rescue helicopter parked at Camp Bastion (Helmand) flies with the red cross symbol allowing the enemy to get a better aim at the helicopter.  Unfortunately, by displaying the red cross symbol, the helicopters are not allowed to carry miniguns or other large weapons.  This seems a rather questionable decision given that the Taliban and other enemies could not give a hoot about law.  It is unclear why the Army decided that a red cross provides more protection than miniguns.

These Air Force “Pedro” rescue helicopters have two miniguns each (total of four miniguns), and the PJs all carry M-4 rifles.  They do fire those weapons in combat.  In July, a helicopter swooped down during a rescue and picked up some wounded soldiers and then was shot down.  The second Air Force helicopter had to get the U.S. Army patients off the bird that had been shot down.  But there was not enough room in the second bird for the Pedro crew.  (No injuries.)  So the tiny Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopters flew out—Kiowas only seat two people and both seats were full—and some of the Pedro folks had to clip onto the skids and fly out like James Bond.

The damaged helicopter was left behind.  Bullets had hit a fuel line and caused the fuel to leak out, and so the pilot had no trouble landing, but the helicopter was now stuck in the middle of nowhere.  So after the Pedros rescued U.S. soldiers who then rescued Pedros, other soldiers flew out to rescue the Pedro helicopter.  The plan was to cut off the rotors and have a bigger helicopter use a cable to lift out the Pavehawk and fly it back to base.  But when the soldiers started using a saw on the rotors, sparks hit the fuel that had leaked and the Pavehawk burned to the ground.  The Army killed the Air Force’s helicopter.

The helicopters take hits.  On another mission in Helmand, an RPG shot through the tail but luckily it missed the transmission; if the RPG had hit the transmission, the entire crew likely would have been killed.  And so . . . those miniguns come in handy.  The gunners are great shots and can return accurate fire within seconds.

Some readers have gotten upset that I call them “Pedro,” thinking the name is secret.  The concern is welcome but not warranted in this case.  The Pedros don’t care and they even have a Pedro patch.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tucson · 12 years ago
    Michael , man that is just a great report . I hope our President reads it!!!. The PJ's and Army Dustoff crews are just the best hands down. And the UH-60 is the machine that makes it possbile ... thanks to all the crews who keep them flying ! Thanks to all our Troops over there ! Gob bless them all , and thanks Mike .
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    Dikke Kus · 12 years ago
    Wow. What other word comes to mind from the American public? I've never seen anything like this before. We're all at war but so many of us have no idea what's is going on over there. THANK YOU!!!!!!! These comments and pictures provide a window for me and I'm sure for others. I was fascinated and couldn't rip my eyes of this page. So many heroes. So many brave acts everyday around us and yet it goes unseen, unheard. I live near an air force base, and many of my neighbors are shipped off there. Usually they remain pretty tight lipped about it all. I'm just trying my best here but I am so curious what it is they go through? Now I know. I hope the Netherlands is helping as well. My husband is Dutch so we often ponder. It would be nice to see this whole section in the paper here. I hope those guys know how great they are.
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    Matty D · 12 years ago
    As an unapologetic peacenik and anti-government radical, I have to say these guys and their operation are mighty damn impressive. Too bad they serve the State. Also, how difficult it must be to integrate back into the managed society back at home where everything is morally ambiguous.
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    andrew vail · 12 years ago
    You've got the Worst Post on this whole thread.

    I'd be able to toss'ya some morals, but they wouldn't make you feel too-dang good.....or Me either.
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    Phantom · 12 years ago
    "Dustoff Pilot"? I doubt it, and you do Army Medevac a disservice by speaking as though you represent them. I was in Army Medevac prior to being a part of the Air Force unit covered here. You are the one without the proper facts, and it's laughable that you would consider Mr. Yon, who is a former Green Beret, banned from Army aircraft because of your own ignorance.
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    jollygreen maintaine · 12 years ago
    Thanks for this post, it was both informative and quite interesting, and the pictures are fantastic. I myself am a maintainer in one of the Pedro units currently in Afghanistan, and I can say that we are fiercely proud to be doing that which we can to save lives. I saw in some of the comments that there are some Army cats who got their feelings hurt by these, however we must all remember the competition between the two of us. Every time there is a call, it's a battle to get the birds ready to go, and both the Army and AF are fighting for every mission. I don't want to say that either one is better equipped for the mission than the other because I'm trying to be respectful, just remember I am in an AF unit...
    A couple of other facts that I think I saw eluded to. The phrase, "These things we do, so that others may live" has been the AF rescue motto since the first days of rescue back in Vietnam. The first rescue, out of all branches, that would go in without support to pick up shot down service members was the rd, out of Japan. Pedro was the original call sign, and has been used since, and is a name that we hold dear to. It's not a top secret name, especially considering there are public groups out there that commemorate the Pedros (http://www.pedroafrescue.org/).
    The last thing that I want to say is that it takes a whole team for these Pedros to get the mission done. Not to toot my own horn, but without us on the ground, that big rattling hunk of junk would never get out there to save people. Every time the call is made, it's the maintainers sprinting out to the aircraft first, getting power on, and all the plugs and covers off. And when they come down, we are out there every time, looking everything over so that the choppers are ready at a moments notice to get back out into the fray. We all work the 12 hour days, no days off, and we are all one team, and I think that I can speak for my entire unit, as well as the entire Pedro community, that we would have it no other way, and we are both happy and very proud to be providing this service.
    Oh, one last thing, the Army flies BlackHawks, these AF helicopters are known as PaveHawks.
    These things we do, that others may live.

    A proud member of the rd HMU.
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    K B · 12 years ago
    WOW...WOW...was just research the support our troops and found your site...WOW! My heart is full, my eyes are tearing...My brain is in process mode...I am in awe of you guys...I am so thankful for each and everyone...FREEDOM, comes to mind every time I see someone in uniform...I salute and am so proud to live in the country of FREEDOM...Thank you, thank you...prayers are with you...
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    emergency ration pac · 12 years ago
    What an amazing photographs. you did an excellent job here. Its just unbelievable. I am just been fan of yours... Keep posting..
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    PilotDad · 12 years ago

    One important point all of your readers should know is that it is difficult for family members, who have loved ones deployed, to get information. There are OPSEC considerations, availability of internet access for the troops and a short window between missions in which to communicate. This makes your site an incredible "window" into the missions and communities that you have covered thus far. As a retired Navy Master Chief, Inshore Undersea Warfare community, I remember my early deployments where the best we could hope for was a letter at mail call, hopefully "scented" (which is still great to receive, by the way). We have links now that were unheard of 0 years ago that help keep us connected. Your site is the best I have found, bar none.

    Our son is a USAF CSAR HH-60 pilot who is currently deployed. Your site gives me a glimpse into his day to day experiences. I appreciate the risks you have taken in order to bring us their stories, which is now his story. My financial contribution is enroute.

    Finally, from the Master Chief to all servicemembers making posts. Remember that many family members and supportive civilians are visiting this site, and offering thanks to all of our servicemembers. No matter which uniform you wear, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than some of the comments I have read. At the end of the day what is important is that we serve with honor, character and integrity, no matter the job, no matter the branch, and that we leave no one behind. The only credit you will probably receive is in the knowledge that you made a difference. And that knowledge, that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, is enough.

    God Bless our troops, and Michael, Bravo Zulu and keep up the good work.
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    RedLawX1 · 12 years ago
    While our filthy politicians craft meaningless bills, you guys are over here doing the work that needs to be done. Thank you for that guys. My only regret is that I cant be with you. In place of that however, I'll offer my prayers for your protection and safety. May the Lord be with you, and may you/your crew return to us safely and to your family. The real Americans have not forgotten.
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    Diana · 12 years ago
    I have the singular privilege to work with the US Air Force CSAR community, and so far they have all been an amazing group of individuals. Its an easy mission to love and a pleasure to support. Thanks for the story and the wonderful photographs.
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    clie78787878 · 12 years ago
    There is a massive change underway in the mobile media market as it becomes unshackled from the operators’ portals that have dominated it for a decade, all without having made any significant inroads into the content use of mobile users. The new capped data packages, fuelled by further competition, will see a total revamp of the mobile media market. It will no longer be based on portals but on direct services by content and services providers via open source phones and mobile-friendly Internet-based services. The next step is the continued emergence of m-commerce and in particular m-payment services. 
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    Mandy · 12 years ago
    To answer the question above, the Code of The Air Rescue Man was penned by Col Richard T. Kight in 1947. The motto is the last line of the code (and today has morphed into a "we" instead of "I" as in "These Things We Do, That Others May Live"


    "It is my duty as a member of the Air Rescue Service to save life and to aid the injured.
    I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts.
    These things I do that others may live."

    http://www.rotorheadsrus.us/documents/262.html (About halfway down the page)
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    Sgt. Nevil USMC · 12 years ago
    Wow this Pic's are outstanding! I respect all of you guys and I am Proud of you all!! Semper Fi
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    Ellen · 12 years ago
    Why aren't we burning the poppy fields?
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    Major Greg Bell, USA · 12 years ago
    Truly an outstanding group of people and the story is one every American should be aware of. I'm sending it to all the members of my CAP squadron.
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    SJPONeill · 12 years ago
    Great story and humbling...

    One really does wonder what protection a red cross offers over a minigun in this war...?
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    d. mears · 12 years ago
    Great piece Michael. I served with the 7th ARRS in Vietnam. I would like to echo what the Chief posted earlier. This site is viewed by many active service personel. Please remember to honor all of our fighting men and women. Another point that has been made is accurate. P.J.'s are CSAR trained, a little different then MEDEVAC. Stay frosty brothers and bring it home.
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    Josh · 12 years ago
    Thank you so much for such an in depth blog. I am currently going through the enlistment process and preparing for the PAST. Do you have any advice from your experiences during the indoc? Thanks!
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    don mears · 11 years ago
    Reply to PJ in training: The 20 M and 55 M swim test and 1.5 mile run shouldn't be a problem. work on your chin ups, push ups and sit ups. Good Luck slick
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    John M. DeCillo · 11 years ago
    Thanks for the terrific coverage of these fine troops.
    They perform one of the most dangerous and least mentioned missions of all.
    Thank you and God bless each one of you.
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    Geralyn Chilton · 11 years ago
    My Marine is deploying to the Helmand Valley. It is heart warming to know that there are expertly trained Pilots and Medics on high alert 24-7. My Son is a Combat Engineer and a Certified Paramedic I pray these two units never need to meet, although I know that if they should our Soldiers will be in good hands. Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay Focused. God Bless Our Soldiers for Their Courage and Dedication and God Bless You for Telling Their Story.
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    Joe Connell · 11 years ago
    I piloted Air Force HH-4 F rescue helicopters in Vietnam. There are none finer than our Pararescue guys. Proud of you then - proud of you now. Thanks for your service and sacrifice...
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    Munro Dearing · 11 years ago
    My hat goes off to the new generation of PJ's and Pedro drivers. What great pictures these are. Really enjoyed seeing them. Keep up the great work and tradition. I am proud to have been part of the community.
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    jack · 11 years ago
    our-great troups--God-bless them all--
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    Whitey White · 11 years ago
    Nice going guys....................
    You are right on with your comment of other SOP'S medics that are also great.
    Special Forces medic's are very well trained for over a year and also in field work.
    Saved a great many lives in VN...Laos...Cambodia and many other places in time.

    My Many Thanks to you ALL once again..................WW
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    AH-1W Pilot · 11 years ago
    Those bashing Gates for his decisions on CSAR-X should know that the only reason these guys are even flying these missions is because Gates refused to accept that casualties in Afghanistan were taking half again as long to get to treatment as those in Iraq. One reason (amongst several) for this was that the Army was tapped out WRT medevac aircraft. He looked around and asked why these CSAR guys were sitting on their asses with all their training and equipment waiting for the rare CSAR mission to come along. Of course the Air Force leadership said "Doctrine! They don't do medevac. They only do personnel recovery." He said BS and got these guys in the fight where they should have been all along.

    Say what you want about Gates but he makes hard decisions and holds people accountable far more than any SecDef in recent memory. CSAR will get their aircraft but it's going to have meet the reduced price associated with reduced budgets. The sooner all the services figure out the salad days are over for a long while, the better.
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    TSgt Paul Garner Ret · 11 years ago
    Dustoff 57

    The motto "That Others May Live" originated with the Air Rescue Service shortly after it was established in March 1946. They were a component of the Air Transportation Command which was which was a USAAF (United States Army Air Force) unit. There was always some question as to whether "We do this that others may live" or "That Others May Live" was the official motto. Both were used initially, but "That Others May Live" was generally accepted as the official motto by 1955. I was assigned to the 7th Air Rescue Group, Wheelus AB, Tripoli, Libya, in 1955 and wore an ARS patch. It was a shield with the Angel of Mercy holding the world in her hands on aa light blue background with a yellow stripe in the center. The scroll underneath read "Air Rescue Service". There were some unofficial variations of this design that had the unit designation in a semi-circle flash above the shield.

    On another subject, my nephew was the pilot of Dustoff 90. Dustoff 90 departed Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam for Gia Nghai Special Forces camp on 12 Feb 1968. They never returned. Please pray for them.
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    M. Deaton · 11 years ago
    Michael Yon gives WAY too much credit to the MERT. During my time in AFG, the Brits were constantly playing with soldiers lives by actively lobbying for missions in Helmand for the MERT that should have gone to Pedros.
    Given a call to launch, The PEDROs could have a patient back at the hospital faster than MERT when that casualty was located 5 miles from Bastion or less. During the night, that distance would double given the alert procedures for the MERT. The JHFA was constantly on the phone with RC South lobbying to cherry pick missions to the detriment of the patients. While observing their posts on chat over a month, they lied often about takeoff times, consistently had their MEDLO at RC South convince the WatchO to assign them the mission and purposefully did not call the Pedro TOC about a casualty. Operationally, the MERT does no triage outside the aircraft and requires AH-64 support, slowing their claimed speed to a pick-up. The US has utilized the CH-47 since its inception but chooses to do MEDEVAC with the H-60 for good reason. The Brits have invented a new MEDEVAC concept and are hell bent on proving its worth even while they politic with soldiers lives. If they wish to do that with Brit casualties, it is their prerogative but Americans should know their soldiers are being put at mortal risk and not given the best possible outcomes because of British politics.
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    Morgan Epperson · 11 years ago
    Thanks Michael! My husband is an Air Force HH-60 pilot about to go on his 6th deployment. He has been to Afghanistan four times. Thank you for shedding light on the great job that these men and women do. They put their lives on the line to save others every day.
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    MedicTronn · 11 years ago
    WOW, great photos and stories. I want to be a Pj sooooo bad I've been training for a few months and I'm currently a paramedic in the state of NY. PJ's are the best they give treatment civilan medic only dream of. Not much more I can say, I cant wait to meet one and I cant wait to put my time in.
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    CSAR MOM · 11 years ago
    My son is a PJ, he's one tough, smart, honorable man. I am so proud and feel blessed to have him as my son.
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    Daniel · 11 years ago
    Great photos and reporting about Pedros!!!
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    Steve Ellman · 11 years ago
    Great photos. Time to get out of Afghanistan so we don't have to be doing this.
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    Chris J · 11 years ago
    What kind of sunglasses is the guy wearing in PICTURE 9? (The guy w the cool looking hair?)
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    Lewis in Orlando · 11 years ago
    No one probably noticed, because the story never made headlines and was even just a paragraph or two under other headlines, but the Pedros recently (June 9, 2010) lost a helicopter and the men that were onboard. I know they were Pedros because I know one of them; and it does appear that it was the result of an RPG.

    The best link I could find was on the Washington Times where the story was actually the subject of the article:

    "NATO helicopter shot down in Afghanistan; 4 U.S. troops killed"

    Please pray for these guys: the ones that died, the ones that have to keep going on missions, and the ones that survived the crash only to find themselves in a hospital bed... if they ever wake up.

    This war sucks.
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    CSAR Aunt · 11 years ago
    My niece is a Pedro. She's a CSAR Pilot/flies a Pavehawk. I believe she arrived for another stint down range just after this was written last September. I have a Jolly Green patch and keep it well protected, I couldn't be more proud of anything as I am of that patch. The helicopter that was shot down on June 9th was a sobering and heartwrenching day for those of us related to Pedros. Thank you Michael for all you do and for showing me what her day in and day out is like in AFG. Continue to pray for all of our troops.
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    CSAR Aunt · 11 years ago
    Dave Wisniewski, who was on board and survived the helicopter that crashed on June 9, 2010, passed away tonight. He received his Purple Heart on June 2 and celebrated his 1st birthday on June 27. http://wisniewskiblog.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
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    JD · 11 years ago
    Great article,
    but those are pavehawks, not blackhawks.
    The long tube on the nose is an aerial refueling probe.
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    Susan Caldwell · 11 years ago
    My Dad did the exact same thing in Korea and Vietnam. He was with the original ( what t.v. called MASH) He passed away recently and I miss him very much. It's funny that he only mentioned shortly before he passed away that they did not carry guns while they were in combat zones. Funny all those years, I never thought about that. I asked if I could get one of his red cross arm bands to make a shadow box. Growing up we had moved so many times that not very much suvived. I will miss him very much. Thank you for your story. Susan Caldwell
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    Sarah D. · 11 years ago
    Thank You "Slick" and "J" for replying to the negative comments earlier. My husband is a PJ and I am extremely proud of him. He is great at his job. Managing ventilators and medications is just part of his job. He is brave, and would put down his own life to rescue another.

    For the nasty people who post negative comments: There is absolutly NO need to pick apart the different services. I think most would be ashamed to read some of the negative posts. Please be mindful that the people you "bash" have loved ones who read these posts and are anxiously waiting at home for their return. Most of these PJ's also have children at home who are also proud of their daddy's! Don't ruin it! Please, please, please quit the negativity.

    R.I.P. to those who lost their lives on June 9 and July , my husband and I pray for those still fighting.
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    The Sandbergs · 11 years ago
    My friend and future brother-in-law was an Evaluator Mission Pilot for the 66th search and rescue squadron at Nellis Air Force base Nevada. On June 9th his helicopter was shot down while attempting to rescue troops. He was one of the lucky three to survive the crash then weeks later he passed from of his injuries. He was the most honorable and bravest men we ever had the pleasure of knowing. These "Pedros" are true heros. They deserve more respect than is given. We would like to offer our prayers and thanks to all the men and women still fighting to save lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We would also like to thank the Wives. fiance, and girlfriends for giving our troops their love and support that gives them the strength to carry out their missions everyday.
    Thank you Captain David A. Wisniewski for your sacrifice. We love you and we will never forget you.
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    Ashley H. · 11 years ago
    I wear a KIA bracelet for one of the PJ's killed on June 9th as a lasting reminder of the sacrifice these brave men and women make daily. Thank you, Joel, for your service. My heart is eternally thankful for you and your dedication to our country.
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    Brett · 11 years ago
    Great job with putting this together, its great see how it is through their eyes. Thank you! And thank you to all the military members who serve their country and are good ambassadors to the nations we occupy.
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    Emil Balusek Austin, · 11 years ago
    Those Pedro patches and some of the Jolly Green and other patches related to Rescue have always been extra special to me in my USAF Collection. Of course, I also look for the Dustoff patches and there are tons of them too. If any of you guys know of companies that have made those for either Air Force or Army units in the past, please shoot me an email with the info as sometimes, those guys have a few on had as extra stock I can pick up and resell to other collectors. In fact, in any of you are interested, collecting militray insignia is a great hobby (over 60 years of it for me). I think of it as saving history because those patches, badges and such are not only much of the esprit de corps of the guys in the units but also they tell us a lot of what is happening to the units. We are in the OIF/OEF era and many patches made now show a link to that with some harkening back to 9/11 and "never forget" which even when I am gone will let people who see these know of the intent of these brave warriors who went to war for us. God bless you and keep you all safe. Emil
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    RAF Techie · 11 years ago
    I am a helicopter engineer with the RAF, we quite often see (read multiple times day and night) the pedro's coming to to refuel by our hangar. In fact we are waitng for the time one driver misjudges his turn and just drives straight in! This is the first testament that these guys really know their cab. How they haven't hit us yet we dont know. We have also seen the results of these maniacs (meant in a nice way) after going in to a VERY hot LZ. They were told to wait for double apache cover but decide they would go in regardless. They got the casualties out and returned in a cab that resembled a colender. It was repaired and flying within a couple of days. How the crew were not injured i do not know. But the balls on these guys are massive. And fair play to them, top blokes with no airs or graces just ordinary guys that dont do the job for glory or medals. Maximum respect to all given. Plus your cabs do look rather cool with 50 cals hanging off them and no doors for the pilots. I take it this is so the pilots can shoot when on the ground? If so you are definatly maniacs!
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      hh60guy · 9 years ago
      Cheers buddy! Re: Doors? Visibility... better without them. Specially when flying with NVG's on...
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    Todd Thompson · 11 years ago
    Outstanding! Go Pedro! Here's praying from the Maine Coast you each come home safe and and get as much time as you need to go hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, with as much family time as you need, you've earned it ; ) .
    Nice reporting. I was provided a link to this report by a Vietnam Pedro so, yup, you're being watched by some of your old timers!. You've made a difference. 0 years from now when you reflect on it, you'll know you did and wonder just how in the heck you were able to.
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    Paul · 11 years ago
    What plate carriers are they wearing?
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    Joe Dempsey · 11 years ago
    Great job to all, I remember it was a team effort. One of the best things about being in the Air Force was being a part of a Pedro air crew. When I was in, Pedro was the "Local Base Rescue" (LBR) bird. Todays crews are doing more of what the "Jolly Greens" did in Viet Nam, God bless and keep you safe. Glad to see Pedro is still around.
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    Gabriel · 11 years ago
    Thanks for the fantastic photographs of our nations Pararescuemen Jumpers. I have huge respect for these brave men. Stay safe!

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