Combat rescue officers celebrate 10-year anniversary
Pictured is Combat Rescue Officer, 2nd Lt. Chad Evans, who’s assigned to the Air National Guard 103 Rescue Squadron, Long Island, New York. This month, Combat Rescue Officers celebrate 10 years of rescuing anyone, anywhere, anytime and returning them with honor. The Combat Rescue Officer career field was created on Dec. 8, 2000. For more information about the Combat Rescue Officer career field, contact the CRO Selection Program Manager at (757) 764-8170, or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Courtesy photo)
by Airman 1st Class Christopher S. Stoltz
Air University Public Affairs
12/8/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- "Our personnel recovery forces need to be organized, trained and equipped to operate across the full range of military operations, including humanitarian operations, irregular warfare and conventional warfare," said Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, commander, Air University. "The Air Force has recognized personnel recovery as a service core function with dedicated forces such as combat rescue officers. This month, CROs celebrate 10 years of rescuing anyone, anywhere, anytime and returning them with honor."
The combat rescue officer career field was created on Dec. 8, 2000, when former Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan directed the creation of a team of 165 officers to lead and command combat rescue operations as direct combatants while providing personnel recovery subject-matter expertise.
"We recognize how vital the personnel recovery and combat rescue missions have become in our expeditionary aerospace force concept," said former Secretary Peters. "The ability to bring people home safely from dangerous missions is paramount. Establishing a career field devoted to this mission will ensure attention is always focused on this commitment."
The initial cadre established a combat rescue officer selection program in 2001 based on the special tactics officer selection program. This process identified candidates possessing critical characteristics. One requirement is to provide leadership during combat-rescue operations across a spectrum of insertion and extraction capabilities to include enemy, environmental and geographic-threat considerations. Candidates must also be able to assess situations quickly, develop and implement decisions under the stressors imposed by high levels of personal discomfort and responsibility associated with personnel recovery missions.
The initial skills training required to become a fully-qualified combat rescue officer in the U.S. Air Force is comprised of 12 formal courses including: CRO indoctrination, combat diver, airborne, military freefall, combat survival, underwater egress, water survival, CRO advanced survival, evasion, resistance and escape. Team-commander qualification is the final step before a CRO is considered fully operational.
Candidates are selected during a two-phased process. Phase I is a board review of the application; Phase II is a one-week field evaluation.
Applicants, ranging from enlisted military members and cadets through officers up to the rank of captain, are screened for mental fortitude and physical capabilities. This program reduces the training attrition rate by ensuring that officers selected are equipped to succeed in the specific mental and physical challenges of the CRO training.
Enlisted personnel, cadets and officers interested in cross-training or completing an inter-service transfer must first be eligible to obtain a top-secret security clearance, volunteer for hazardous military duties including parachuting, marine diving and mission aircrew. They must also qualify for a U.S. Air Force Class III Flight Physical, according to Air Force Instruction 48-123, and be male, based on Department of Defense direct-combatant policies.
Once past the long and difficult selection and initial training process, a combat rescue officer's real challenge begins, said Col. Michael Slojkowski, combat rescue officer, Joint Forces Command, Suffolk, Va. "The decision to become a CRO should be made after a comprehensive look at all of the internal and external factors, not just the personal motivations and desires of the individual," Colonel Slojkowski said. "Parents, spouses and children often experience more anxieties and pressures than the servicemember. Those that become fully aware of all of the commitments and challenges of being a CRO find that the mission of saving lives is even more exciting and rewarding when shared with their families and fellow rescue Airmen."
Since February 2002, CROs have led combat operations to rescue downed Naval and Air Force aviators, conducted recovery operations in the Tigris River, performed rescue-diving operations off the Horn of Africa to recover aircrew from downed helicopters and are currently rescuing U.S., coalition and civilian personnel across the Middle East.
"The CRO spectrum is broad," said Capt. Nicholas Morgans, a CRO currently deployed to Afghanistan. "It ranges from personnel recovery and casualty evacuation to reintegration and training. I have only experienced a small piece, but whether it is bringing home a fallen hero or saving the life of a double amputee, words just can't describe the internal rewards. In all aspects of leadership, getting in the fight and job satisfaction, I am convinced I have the greatest job in the world."
CROs have stood ready for humanitarian assistance and disaster-response operations as well. They commanded the Guardian Angel Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, conducting 4,267 airborne and 39 watercraft recoveries throughout New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They also led responses to the Pakistan earthquake of 2006 and this year's earthquake in Haiti.
"The ability for an officer, any officer, to perform the tasks of his assigned Airmen and understand their missions in depth provides the foundation for their credibility as leaders," said Lt. Gen. Mike Hostage, U.S. Air Forces Central commander. "Our CROs, working alongside the heroic para jumpers of our combat search and rescue forces are true leaders."
Additionally, American civilians in areas of responsibility have been rescued by CROs. Contractor Thomas Hamill and journalist Jill Carroll were successfully returned to their families after being held hostage in Iraq in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
"Returning Thomas Hamill was one of the most rewarding and cherishing experiences I have ever been a part of in my Air Force career," said Lt. Col. Jason Pifer, commander, 48th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. "Helping a fellow American and his spouse through a traumatic experience and preparing them to successfully reunite with loved ones, their community and civilian job is beyond words."
However, the loss of fellow combat rescue officer 1st Lt. Joel Gentz in June 2010 reminds fellow combat rescue officers the threat is real; demanding their lives, if necessary.
"A CRO's focus is not a certain area of land or water, a platform, or even solely a service," said retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Miller. "They exhibit the true values of Service Before Self and Excellence in All (We) Do, guided by a warrior ethos of 'These Things We Do That Others May Live To Return With Honor.' I am proud I had a part in the establishment of this career field and look forward to reading about their accomplishments in the future."
For more information about the combat rescue officer career field, contact the CRO selection program manager at (757) 764-8170, or e-mail email@example.com.