Taking risks to save others

Durango native rescues wounded men in Afghanistan

Maj. Parkin Bryson, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot, helped complete a high-risk rescue of two wounded Afghan National Army personnel during a mission Sept. 11, 2011. Two HH-60G Pave Hawks had to fly over 12,000-foot mountains and perform an aerial refueling. Bryson, who is from Durango, is seen with his helicopter Sept. 26, 2011, at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Enlarge photo

Staff Sgt. JOHN WRIGHT/U.S. Air Force

Maj. Parkin Bryson, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot, helped complete a high-risk rescue of two wounded Afghan National Army personnel during a mission Sept. 11, 2011. Two HH-60G Pave Hawks had to fly over 12,000-foot mountains and perform an aerial refueling. Bryson, who is from Durango, is seen with his helicopter Sept. 26, 2011, at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

While the average American spent the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks going about life as usual or thinking about how American life has changed since, Air Force Maj. Parkin Bryson spent it risking his life to save two wounded men.

The men were members of the Afghan National Army and stranded in the Kuh-e-Nilu Mountains of Afghanistan.

The 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron was put in charge of the mission with Bryson, a Durango native, as the lead pilot.

The squadron got to work planning the mission, which was going to require the men to act quickly and effectively because of the nature of the injuries, time, distance and elevation of the mountains, according to a news release from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

Because of the elevation and the distance between the wounded men and the base, the flight engineer stripped as much weight as possible from the helicopter, and the men prepared to fly with only basic rescue and medical equipment.

But there was one other crucial aspect of the flight: The two rescue helicopters would have to refuel in midair.

To refuel, a tanker aircraft trails a hose and refueling line behind the helicopter, and the helicopter pilot has to gently make contact with it using the helicopter’s refueling probe, according to the release.

This was far from the typical mission.

“Knowing we had to go that high, the big challenge was fuel load and fuel burn,” Staff Sgt. Steven Prather, a flight engineer, said in the release. “I had to run numbers to make sure we could get there. It wasn’t a typical mission, but this is what we train for.”

The men were in the helicopters ready to go in about 20 minutes.

The squadrons maneuvered the refuel without complications.

“It’s one of the more skill-intensive portions of what we do. These machines are designed for much lower altitudes” Bryson, 33, said in the release. “It’s difficult when you take them (the helicopters) to the edge of the operational envelope. The controls become very loose.”

The squadron continued to fly over the mountain range and soon realized there was heavy machine gun fire coming from the mountains to the east.

Bryson led a couple of low passes over the area to determine the threat level before deciding to take his helicopter in to retrieve the men while the second helicopter provided security.

Bryson faced yet another complication when retrieving the men. Instead of conducting a typical hover landing, he had to land with forward momentum because of the elevation where the men were located, all while watching for threats from the ground.

The pararescue team went in and recovered the two men, and the helicopter was in the air just three minutes later.

It was just another day in the life of a man who wants to serve, said his mom, Heather.

Bryson went to the U.S. Air Force Academy after graduating from Durango High School in 1996, and he decided to sign up for 10 years in the service after graduating.

He is in his eighth year and plans to stay in after his 10 years are up, Heather Bryson said.

“He likes what he does,” she said. “Helping people is what he is all about.”

Bryson, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2000, has been overseas for almost two years. He is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and alternates between there and Afghanistan, spending six months in Okinawa and four in Afghanistan.

Heather Bryson was on vacation and had just learned about the mission when she returned to Durango late on the night of Oct. 4.

“It was kind of like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’m so happy that they were able to get those men out of there,” she said. “It’s pretty hairy what they did, but they got the job done. That’s what they’re trained to do.”

jdahl@durangoherald.com

An HH-60G Pave Hawk with the 55th Rescue Squadron maneuvers into position over Arizona to refuel from an HC-130P/N with the 79th Rescue Squadron. Enlarge photo

Airman 1st Class VERONICA PIERCE/U.S. Air Force

An HH-60G Pave Hawk with the 55th Rescue Squadron maneuvers into position over Arizona to refuel from an HC-130P/N with the 79th Rescue Squadron.

The quick response of the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron airmen saved the lives of two wounded Afghan National Police in Kapisa province, Afghanistan. The 83rd pararescue airmen are deployed from the 31st Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base; the aircrew is deployed from the 33rd Rescue Squadron, also at Kadena Air Base. Enlarge photo

Staff Sgt. JOHN WRIGHT/U.S. Air Force

The quick response of the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron airmen saved the lives of two wounded Afghan National Police in Kapisa province, Afghanistan. The 83rd pararescue airmen are deployed from the 31st Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base; the aircrew is deployed from the 33rd Rescue Squadron, also at Kadena Air Base.

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