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Counting CROs: Portland AF Reserve unit seeks combat rescue officers








by Jake Chappelle
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

3/2/2015 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- There's a sense of grit in this line of work. They know at any moment, they could get the call to head out on a mission.

These combat rescue officers, or CROs, are Air Force search, rescue, and retrieval experts. They're skilled in recovery strategy, and leading pararescue - PJ - teams into combat environments to extract personnel or sensitive equipment.

Think paramedics with guns.

Dispatching rescue teams is the Air Force Reserve's 304th Rescue Squadron's motive. But there's an issue - the Portland-based unit has a CRO shortage, preventing them from optimally achieving it.

"The 304th RQS has five positions assigned and they have five vacancies," said Master Sgt. Yvette Larson, Air Force Reserve officer recruiter.

These vacancies are part-time traditional Reservist positions.

"Who wouldn't want to save the lives of America's heroes?" said Lt. Col. David Jeske, 446th Airlift Wing chief of Inspections here. "I think nearly all Combat Rescue Officers go into the career field because it's an exciting way to help others."

Jeske manages and ensures the wing's compliance in several AF inspection standards, but he's a seasoned CRO to the core, with more than 20 years of skill and expertise.

"You get to be the last (and) best chance a serviceman has at seeing their family again, going home, or serving again," Jeske said. "With each mission, you have the opportunity to dramatically and positively affect families, communities, and someone's life."

CROs are first and foremost military officers with recovery operations in combat, the main goal. But other times, they serve as humanitarians assisting calamity victims, including Hurricane Katrina, injured mountain hikers, and snow storms.

Candidates who are up to the challenge and motivated to save lives have to qualify as an Air Force Reserve officer, if they aren't already, and complete a CRO-specific fitness assessment before they can be accepted into the training pipeline.

Combat rescue officers continuously train to sustain their abilities across a wide variety of skillsets, including combat marksmanship and precision parachuting.

Jeske said in order to successfully become a CRO, the "Lone Ranger" attitude gets thrown to the wolves.

"Either the team wins - and you win - or the team loses - and you lose. The sooner you learn this, the better off you - and the team - will be," he said.

Each team member's skillsets are only effective when they're applied together. "I'm not doing my job if I don't try to maximize everyone's ability by integrating those abilities into the team," he said.

Jeske articulated the combat-rescue community as small, but supportive. "You get to know each other; you fly together, eat together, and bleed together - and you definitely only succeed together. That brings people together because you learn to rely on each other, trust your life to each other. This makes you really close-knit."

So they train - as a team - to refine their skills to make sure they deliver the finest care to whomever they're recovering, whether it's a service member, or a disaster victim. It's somebody who desperately needs them.

The 304th RQS is a stand-alone unit at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, but it's part of the 943rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Florida.

Motivated leaders interested in helping the 304th RQS save lives, should get in touch with Master Sgt. Yvette Larson, Air Force Reserve officer recruiter at (253) 330-7489 or yvette.larson@us.af.mil for additional information, and to see if they qualify.

Do you have what it takes to be a CRO in the Air Force Reserve?