Last to let you down: Kadena Airmen ensure soft landing for pararescuemen

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman climbs aboard a boat after performing a static line jump as the sun sets after a lowlight training operation in the Pacific Ocean June 29, 2016. Air Force pararescue is one of the United States Department of Defense’s elite combat forces trained and equipped to conduct personnel rescue and recovery in both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman climbs aboard a boat after performing a static line jump as the sun sets after a lowlight training operation in the Pacific Ocean June 29, 2016. Air Force pararescue is one of the United States Department of Defense’s elite combat forces trained and equipped to conduct personnel rescue and recovery in both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

U.S. Air Force pararescumen, from the 31st rescue squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, float through the air after performing a static line jump from an MC-130J Commando, June 29, 2016, over the Pacific Ocean. Pararescuemen depend on the parachutes packed by expert air crew flight equipment personnel to be able to deploy anywhere to accomplish their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

U.S. Air Force pararescumen, from the 31st rescue squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, float through the air after performing a static line jump from an MC-130J Commando, June 29, 2016, over the Pacific Ocean. Pararescuemen depend on the parachutes packed by expert air crew flight equipment personnel to be able to deploy anywhere to accomplish their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mathew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCOIC, retrieves a parachute from the Pacific Ocean during a pararescue training operation June 29, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa. The water-logged parachutes hauled in the from ocean can weigh up to 150 pounds, but must be cleaned and dried within two days to prevent corrosion and ensure the chutes’ effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mathew Michels, 31st Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCOIC, retrieves a parachute from the Pacific Ocean during a pararescue training operation June 29, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa. The water-logged parachutes hauled in the from ocean can weigh up to 150 pounds, but must be cleaned and dried within two days to prevent corrosion and ensure the chutes’ effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Two pararescuemen, from Kadena Air Base’s 31st Rescue Squadron, parachute into the Pacific Ocean during a rescue training scenario June 29, 2016. Pararescuemen train both night and day to maintain critical skills for their missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Two pararescuemen, from Kadena Air Base’s 31st Rescue Squadron, parachute into the Pacific Ocean during a rescue training scenario June 29, 2016. Pararescuemen train both night and day to maintain critical skills for their missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Two boats race through the water to a designated landing zone and begin to circle, the crew’s eyes search the sky, while their ears listen and wait for all too familiar sound. First a rumble can be heard and the an MC-130J Commando emerges on the horizon and tracks a steady path toward the boats as crews ready themselves in anticipation for what’s to come.

The sun is setting fast and the water below promises a soft landing. After several passover’s, pararescuemen walk out of the back of the aircraft, their feet in the wind and their lives in the hands of the parachutes packed by riggers.

Aircrew flight equipment Airmen from the 31st Rescue Squadron ensured their charges had a safe landing during their water landing training scenario off the coast of Okinawa.

During the scenario the, the 31st RQS’ pararescuemen had to deploy a jet ski from an MC-130J and then circle around in the aircraft and jump in after it. The pararescuemen use jet skis and other light, mobile watercraft to maneuver quickly throughout open water for quick and efficient rescues.

“If you have a fighter pilot or someone who punches out [ejects] from an aircraft, we can jump to them usually with just our bodies and secure them and wait until the helicopter comes in,” explained Lt. Col. Mathew McGuinness, 31st Rescue Squadron commander.

While the cargo and personnel jettisoned from the C-130 overhead, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Michels, 31st RQS aircrew flight equipment assistant NCOIC, recorded and watched for any deviations in the opening of the parachutes from launch to landing.

To ensure no details are overlooked and each jump is completed properly to keep their team safe, Michel records jumps as the team’s malfunctions officer and helps recover parachutes from the corrosive waves of the Pacific Ocean.

“Jumping over water is a little easier because you know it’s a soft landing,” Michels said. “You don’t have to worry about someone rolling an ankle or landing wrong.”

The important part during the scenario for AFE is to hook the parachutes as soon as possible and get them back into the boat, he continued.

From the time the parachutes hit the water, the AFE crew has less than 48-hours to recover, wash and dry them before they are condemned and deemed unserviceable since salt water will begin to degrade some of the components of the chutes.

“A normal parachute while dry weighs anywhere from 35 to 45-pounds,” Michels explained. “When they are wet and we are dragging them into the boat it feels like it’s at least more than 100 pounds, especially when the canopy is sinking below the waves. If it’s not hooked properly, it drags water like a giant cup and weighs it down that much more.”

The 31st RQS’ AFE Airmen know pararescumen can and will deploy at any time for unexpected rescue or recovery calls. The AFE team ensures parachutes and equipment are maintained and can be used at a moment's notice.

“Our lives are in their hands,” McGuinness said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have gone on several hundred jumps and every single time my chute has opened. They’re awesome, the bottom line is we couldn’t do our jobs without riggers.”