His two-word statement was delivered crisply and unvarnished— as one would expect from a seasoned Marine officer and attack pilot. It caught me off guard. Not because I was some delicate flower unaccustomed to such language, but by the depth of his sincerity. His comment wasn’t about anything I had done, but it spoke volumes about his admiration for the combat exploits of a small but determined group of Air Force aviators.
In the spring of 2012, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California as an Air Force exchange officer flying UH-1Y helicopter gunships. Normally assigned to a different squadron, on this particular day I was assisting a sister unit with a functional check flight (FCF) for a UH-1Y that had recently received some maintenance action. While I stood at the operations receiving a brief from the day’s duty Lieutenant, a particular higher ranking officer walked up to the desk. Noticing the rank sewn onto my flight suit (Marines don’t wear shoulder rank on their flight suits), he paused to look me over; he leaned ever so slightly to see the Marine squadron patch on my right shoulder and then examined my black leather name tag which clearly labeled me as “Captain…USAF.” Apparently satisfied with his non-verbal inquisition, he asked me “Why are you here?” I figured this was not an existential question and replied, “I’m down here to do a Functional Check Flight on one of your birds, sir.” “Hmm, what do you fly?” Fair question. “Yankees,” I answered, assuming he didn’t know I was a UH-1Y pilot and simply wanted to know which of their unit’s three different helicopters I was going to check out. He replied “No, what do you fly in the Air Force?” “I fly 60s, sir.” Pause. “Were you a Pedro pilot?”
His question implied a lot. It meant he’d spent time in Afghanistan. All Air Force HH-60G rescue helicopters flew under the “Pedro” radio callsign in Afghanistan and had done so for years. Having just spent seven months in Helmand, Afghanistan, with the Marines, I also understood the likely experience he’d had with the “Pedros.” During my unit’s deployment, our UH-1Y’s and AH-1W’s frequently provided armed escort for the medical evacuation missions the Pedros flew into hot landing zones. I’d flown several of these escort missions myself. Understanding all of this, I answered his question with a very flat “Yes, sir.” This answer gave him another noticeable pause, as if to calculate the precision and weight of his next words, then he looked at me very intently, and in a faintly visceral tone, stated “F-ing heroic.” He turned and walked away without another word.
–Brandon “Sack” Losacker
The heroic reputation of Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) Airmen is well earned and well known. At some point, however, even the most august group of warriors become limited when the tools and concepts they employ are no longer adequate to the new challenges of an evolving multi-domain battlespace. As a tribute to these warriors OTH will begin a new series next week dedicated to examining the history, shortfalls, and innovative growth opportunities in the Air Force’s CSAR helicopter force—a force that is a cornerstone of the larger joint and coalition Personnel Recovery enterprise. Written by Brandon “Sack” Losacker, it will kick off with next Monday, August 7th, and look at what tools and concepts are needed to restore the sacred assurance that we will not abandon our warriors.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy orposition of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.