European Spotlight: Maj. Mike Frizelle, former pararescue jumper
Wow, you were a pararescue jumper (PJ). Those guys have the reputation for being the toughest of the tough. Was it as difficult as everyone says?
Every day (of training) is just miserable. “Mr. San Antonio” (Staff Sgt. Art Morrison, a weightlifter who was “Mr. San Antonio”) used to climb on my back. One day, I told him I had shin splints, so he leaned on me for an entire 6-mile run.
He’d rip your clothes off doing pull ups. Hold you under water. Self-initiated elimination. We’d do 800 pushups in a day — through the whole day when you count them up. That would include a 6-mile run, 2-mile swim and many other calisthenics. But I never would have made it not for Morrison pushing me.
Did you understand how dangerous it is being a PJ?
I had no clue. I joined the Air Force in 1977 … and volunteered for pararescueman. One of my friends wanted to do it. There were 1,000 people trying out for it, and 50 qualified for the entrance test. Eleven completed the course. I graduated with Chris Ruvola, who was the hero from “A Perfect Storm.” Rick Smith, who was killed, was in our class, but graduated a class behind us.
I had to scratch out the names of eight people from my address book – people who died, and that was peacetime.
This was the Cold War timeframe?
It was the Cold War. We did top secret Boomer missions … pulling sailors off the back of “boomers,” nuclear subs.
In Hawaii, we did two big missions. One was on the Hokananaa, a 95-foot fishing boat. We got on and found all these spiders crawling below deck. We rescued two people.
The other was a British freighter, 750 mile out a sea. Our rescue boat got crushed under its fantail! The screws came out of water (in rough seas.) I’ll never forget the sound of those screws.
In Hawaii, we did top secret missions pulling out space satellites. “Catch a Falling Star,” the Corona Project. (Convicted spy) John Walker gave away the secrets. For eight years, I thought everything I did was pretty normal! Then you talk to people and they think you’re bragging!
What I don’t get is the path from PJs to flying helicopters to become a nurse practitioner in the Army. Man, you’re all over the place!
No, not at all. I’ve advanced every avenue of the PJ lifestyle, to some degree. Diving. Flying and medicine. I keep adding on to my PJ training. Now, I want to go to a diving course to become a dive instructor. I’m a instrument-rated pilot for fixed wing and helicopters, working on becoming a flying instructor.
A young guy is thinking about living the life … what’s your recommendation?
When I did this, people laughed at me. I weighed 120 pounds! People told me, “Did you see these guy? These guys are elite.” When I was 145 (lbs.), no one would mess with me. I was meaner than a snake. I had to be. I wasn’t giving up. I went for my dreams.
It changed my life, it really did. I thought I was going to be auto body repairs guy my whole life. I think no one should accept who they are, but go after their dreams.
If you don’t have those aspirations, you’ll never reach those goals!
Interview by Terry Boyd.
U.S. Army Maj. Mike Frizelle
Title: Action junkie, who’s done everything from being an Air Force pararescue jumper, to flying helicopters for the Coast Guard.
Day job: Nurse practitioner at Baumholder’s Health Clinic
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