Rigger up: 31st RQS AFE Airmen preserve pararescumen lives

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, straightens parachute chords while parachute packing June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels ensures 31st RQS pararescuemen can don safe parachute packs that have passed intensive safety checks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, straightens parachute chords while parachute packing June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels ensures 31st RQS pararescuemen can don safe parachute packs that have passed intensive safety checks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, flakes and folds a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels' attention to detail and adherence to safety standards play a crucial part in preserving the lives of pararescuemen who don the chutes when jumping out of aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, flakes and folds a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels' attention to detail and adherence to safety standards play a crucial part in preserving the lives of pararescuemen who don the chutes when jumping out of aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, fold a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill and Michels ensure the safety of aircrews jumping from aircraft by assembling and maintaining parachute packs according to strict guidelines and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, fold a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill and Michels ensure the safety of aircrews jumping from aircraft by assembling and maintaining parachute packs according to strict guidelines and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cocoons a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill applied his entire body weight on top of the canopy in order to push out all the air between folds, enabling him to pack it into a small deployment bag. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cocoons a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill applied his entire body weight on top of the canopy in order to push out all the air between folds, enabling him to pack it into a small deployment bag. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cocoons a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. In order to push out all the air inside the material for packing, Merrill applied his entire body weight by lying down on top of the canopy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cocoons a parachute canopy June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. In order to push out all the air inside the material for packing, Merrill applied his entire body weight by lying down on top of the canopy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, and Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment journeyman, pack a parachute canopy into a deployment bag June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Each parachute must go through a specialized packing procedure, followed by an extensive series of safety checks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge, and Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment journeyman, pack a parachute canopy into a deployment bag June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Each parachute must go through a specialized packing procedure, followed by an extensive series of safety checks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, packs a parachute June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. A fully loaded parachute pack weighs approximately 80 pounds and contains both a main chute and reserve chute, adding an additional layer of safety for aircrews who jump out of aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, packs a parachute June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. A fully loaded parachute pack weighs approximately 80 pounds and contains both a main chute and reserve chute, adding an additional layer of safety for aircrews who jump out of aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, inspects equipment June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill assembles parachutes for pararescuemen and maintains a variety of aircrew equipment such as oxygen bottles, masks, life preservers, altimeters and night vision goggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erik Merrill, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, inspects equipment June 20, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Merrill assembles parachutes for pararescuemen and maintains a variety of aircrew equipment such as oxygen bottles, masks, life preservers, altimeters and night vision goggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels is a 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels ensures the safety aircrews jumping from aircraft by packing and maintaining parachute packs and a variety of equipment including oxygen bottles, masks, life preservers, altimeters and night vision goggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels is a 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Michels ensures the safety aircrews jumping from aircraft by packing and maintaining parachute packs and a variety of equipment including oxygen bottles, masks, life preservers, altimeters and night vision goggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Beads of sweat run down his forehead as he squeezes out every last cubic millimeter of air from a parachute and folds it into a bag no larger than a basic tool box, checking each step to ensure strict compliance to safety standards.

After several hours of assembly and safety checks, pararescuemen of the 31st Rescue Squadron will don the parachute pack, trusting their lives to the dedication and attention to detail Senior Airman Erik Merrill, and other 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment members, execute daily.

"For pararescuemen, we mainly pack parachutes which are specialized for premeditated jumps out of aircraft," 
Merrill said.

Besides parachutes, aircrews need a variety of equipment to carry out tasks such as deep strike combat search and rescue, casualty and non-combatant evacuations, and humanitarian assistance. Jumpers train to execute missions at any altitude, over land or sea, and day or night.

"We also maintain oxygen bottles, masks, life preservers, altimeters, and night vision goggles," added Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st RQS AFE assistant NCOIC.

The 80-pound parachute pack must support not only the weight of jumpers, but also their weapons, armor and ruck sack. Aircrew flight equipment Airmen ensure no details get overlooked during safety inspections.

"We have eleven different checks just for packing the chute," 
Michels said. "Then somebody who isn't a packer must examine it again using their own checklist, and finally the PJ's perform another inspection on jump day."

Jump day can occur at any time, requiring members to maintain constant readiness for unexpected rescue or recovery calls. The AFE team ensures parachutes and equipment can be used at a moment's notice.

"Every month we pack and maintain between twenty and thirty parachute packs, as well as having about two dozen of them ready to go," 
Michels said.

The total number of parachutes the team maintains extends into the hundreds.

"Among all the different types of parachutes, there's about 200 packs we maintain, and if you consider the reserve chutes as well, you can add at least 100 more to that," Merrill added.

Depending on mission needs, Merrill and Michels pack a variety of differently configured parachutes from 30,000-foot freefall chutes to ones designed for deployment as close as 800 feet from the ground.

"Ones used at 800 feet are known as static line chutes, which are hooked up to a line in the aircraft, and when the PJs jump out, it automatically pops the chute," 
Michels said.

In addition to ensuring jumpers have reliable equipment, AFE Airmen also monitor training and jumping exercises.

"We conduct malfunction officer duty, or MALO, where we go out to the training area with a camcorder to observe jumpers," 
Michels said. "In the event they have to cut away from their main and use the reserve, we can troubleshoot the incident by examining both the video and the chutes."

By observing their chutes in action, Michels and Merrill benefit from job perks giving them a sense of accomplishment.

"My favorite thing is getting to see my equipment used, it’s like the ultimate trust fall," 
Michels said. "It is instant feedback, and I get to see first-hand how my job affects the mission."