VALDOSTA, Ga.—The National Geographic Channel has found a gem at Moody Air Force Base — the 38th Rescue Squadron, tasked with the gritty job of saving the lives of the injured in combat and moving them to safety.
The journalists were embedded with the squadron near Kandahar, Afghanistan, for four months, collecting film and information over the course of 130 missions in which 108 lives were saved. The effort will be aired in a six-part series called "Inside Combat Rescue," beginning Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.
The pararescuemen, or PJs, follow the orders of their combat rescue officers to locate an injured warrior in the field and fly out to them in Pave Hawk helicopters. They touch down near the wounded in hostile areas when able, but sometimes descend via rappel or parachute, and not always over land.
The pararescuemen use specialized training to move over enemy territory, stabilize and extricate victims, sometimes under fire. Air support from the Pave Hawks and A-10 fighter jets protect the soldiers as they move over mountains and through water to save victims.
Moody opened its doors to representatives from NatGeo and other media for a tour of the base recently, as well as rescue and flight demonstrations featuring the operations of the 38th. Charlie Parsons, Vice President of Global Development and Production, was there to thank the squadron for their cooperation in allowing NatGeo journalists to collect and tell the stories of these pararescuemen.
"We want to take our viewers into somewhere where they'll never go. In this instance, it took a while to get permission," Parsons said about the project. "The former President of National Geographic Television, Maryanne Culpepper, her son is PJ. So that's how we got the idea. I came out today because I wanted to meet the guys we've been watching on tape for months, and show our support."
Members of the 38th explained that the Pave Hawk is used as the primary mover for personnel, while the HC-130 serves as an additional transport and refueling plane for the helicopters. The A-10s provide ground and air protection for the other birds and the rescue operation on the ground.
The operations of the 38th aren't limited to overseas combat situations. The squadron was tasked with the search and recovery effort to find James Eunice, the teenager who went missing for 16 days during a boating and duck hunting trip at Ocean Pond, according to Capt. Seth Davis.
The squadron were also sent to New Orleans to provide rescue support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Blankenship shared his experience in the field and what it was like to work with NatGeo crews. His sole responsibility on deployment is to rescue the victims, and while the job is scary and stressful at times, he focuses in on his job and lets little distract him, he said.
To date, nothing has gone wrong, he said, because he is still here.
Blankenship, as well as other pararescuemen, said working with NatGeo was strange at first, but once they adjusted to having camera and sound gear as part of their daily equipment, the journalists stayed out of their way.
"It only took a week or so before they were invisible to us," Blankenship said.