Here’s how the US Air Force’s elite PJ special operators rescue troops in the mountains of Afghanistan

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U.S. Air Force pararescue Airmen conduct helicopter hoist training Nov. 5, 2018 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. US Air Force

US Air Force Pararescue specialists, or PJs, are one of the most elite special operators in the world.

Consisting of about 500 airmen, PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,”according to the Air Force.

These “highly trained experts perform rescues in every type of terrain and partake in every part of the mission, from search and rescue, to combat support to providing emergency medical treatment, in order to ensure that every mission is a successful one.”

“One of the challenges [in Afghanistan] is the altitude and terrain because we are surrounded by mountains,” Maj. Jason Egger, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, said in a Defence Department news release on the training.

“We overcome that challenge by working with the Army pilots, which gives us the capability to get to the altitude we need and insert the teams,” Egger added.

Here’s how PJs rescue troops in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.


“We sit on a very short alert window, and we are able to launch within 30 minutes at all times throughout the day and night,” Eggers said.

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US Air Force PJs on the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018. US Air Force

After getting a call, the PJs load into an Army CH-47 Chinook, which they often use for transports in rescue missions in Afghanistan.

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A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off during a PJ training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. US Air Force

“Most of the central and northern Afghanistan area is very high altitude, and that’s where the CH-47s can really provide some special capability because of their ability to get to that high altitude area and insert the team,” Eggers said.

Read more about Chinooks here.


And then fly to the rescue site.

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A CH-47 Chinook helicopter flies over an MRAP during a PJ training mission on Nov. 5, 2018 in Afghanistan. US Air Force

At the site, PJs fast-rope down to the ground to get the troops in need.

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An Air Force PJ fast-ropes down to the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018. US Air Force

PJs can also insert from higher altitudes, and therefore train in high altitude jumps from fixed-wing aircraft.


In this training scenario, an armoured vehicle, possibly an MRAP, was involved in some sort of accident or maybe even hit an improvised explosive device.

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PJ operators perform rescues during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. US Air Force

The PJs begin tending to the wounded, who simulated injuries for the training.

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A PJ operator helps an service member with a simulated injury during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. US Air Force

Then load them back on the Chinook, where they continue monitoring their conditions and providing first aid.

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PJs provide first aid to wounded service members during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. The wounds were simulated for the training’s realism. US Air Force

As they fly back to base.

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PJs flying in Chinook helicopters during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. US Air Force

Back at base, they unload the wounded and carry them to the field hospital, completing their training mission.

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PJs carrying a service member with a simulated wound during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. US Air Force

But PJs also undergo intense combat arms training as well, which is needed in certain rescue scenarios.

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PJs conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. US Air Force

“The PJs and the combat rescue officers have a pretty broad skill set, and it’s pretty difficult to stay sharp on all those skills,” Eggers said. “So continuing to keep them engaged through training, it keeps those skills sharp throughout the entire deployment.”

Watch the full interview with Eggers here, and the PJ training videos here, here and here.