Air Force Special Warfare operators compete for title as top pararescuemen

  • Published
  • By Dale Greer
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Special Warfare operators across the U.S. Air Force are in Louisville this week to vie for the title of top pararescuemen during the 2023 PJ Rodeo.

The biennial contest, hosted this year by the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, will see 30 pararescuemen from as far away as Japan compete in two-person teams to demonstrate skills in precision parachuting, marksmanship, technical rescue and tactical medicine.

Events have included parachute jumps from an altitude of 5,500 feet, and a “high-angle” ropes scenario in which participants scaled a building to reach an injured Airman, said Senior Master Sgt. Blair Baerny, a Kentucky Air Guardsman and chairman of the 2023 Rodeo.

“Our PJs started that competition at street level, then climbed 60 feet before traversing a highline rope that was suspended between two buildings to reached a simulated patient,” Baerny explained. “The Airmen then performed a medical assessment, packaged the patient for transport and lowered him safely to the ground.”

Pararescue is one component of Air Force Special Warfare, and PJs are some of the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. As certified emergency medical technicians, they can parachute into hostile or challenging environments in the world’s most remote areas, provide life-saving medical care and evacuate injured personnel for more advanced treatment.

“Pararescue is the premier rescue force in the Department of Defense,” Baerny said. “If you’re in trouble, we’re the guys who come to get you.”

The Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron is regularly engaged in military operations around the globe, from disaster-recovery efforts in the United States to combat operations overseas. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, unit personnel established and operated a helicopter landing zone on a highway overpass in New Orleans, helping evacuate nearly 12,000 citizens. In 2017, following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the squadron deployed 18 personnel to the Houston area to rescue 336 citizens stranded by flood waters; and 23 Airmen to the Virgin Islands to provide air traffic control for 636 rescue aircraft, evacuating 1,286 U.S. Citizens from the Dutch island of St. Maarten. Last year, Air Guard PJs rescued 19 citizens after flooding devastated Eastern Kentucky, using high-line ropes to cross flooded areas and move evacuees to helicopters.

The 2023 PJ Rodeo is facilitated by the Pararescue Association, a non-profit veterans group comprised of Special Warfare Airmen. It is held every two years in conjunction with the group’s reunion activities. This year’s reunion concludes Sept. 9.