48th RQS Awarded Rescue Mission of the Year

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Airmen from the 41st and 48th Rescue Squadron’s pose for a photo with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, during the banquet celebrating the 50th reunion of the Jolly Green Association, May 4, 2019, in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The JGA presented Airmen from the 48th and 41st RQS with the Rescue Mission of the Year award; the only non-Air Force rescue award recognized by the Air Force. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein presented the 48th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., with the Jolly Green Rescue Mission of the Year award.

Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Cole, 48th RQS pararescueman, was the team-lead of five pararescuemen and one combat rescue officer, on a combat rescue mission in Somalia, June 2018.

While assigned to the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing, Camp Lemonnier Republic of Djibouti, Africa, Cole’s team received a request to preposition to a forward operating base. There they waited to provide medical support to U.S. Army Special Forces who were sent out to advise and assist local partner forces.

Three days into the operation they went under attack. Multiple machine gun nests and an unidentified mortar position rained down on the ground forces. Cole’s team responded to the casualty evacuation request and within 14 minutes were overhead the active engagement. Once there, they provided suppressive fire for the ground forces in their HH-60G Pavehawks from the 41st RQS, Moody AFB, Ga.

Cole’s aircraft exposed itself to heavy machine gun fire and mortar rounds, while also overcoming degraded communications with the joint terminal attack controller on the ground. With a lack of information, Cole and the Team CRO decided to land the lead aircraft to triage the developing situation. On the ground, Cole linked up with the ground force medic to load the most critical patients onto the aircraft.

“I expect them to make decisions,” said Lt. Col. Blake George, 48th RSQ commander. “We recruit and train guys that can make dynamic decisions on the fly, just like they did in that mission and it makes all the difference.”

With the patients loaded, the lead aircraft took off to provide cover fire for the team’s trail aircraft to pick up an additional injury. During the second pick up Cole and the other pararescuemen secured a surgical airway and gained interosseous access to administer a blood transfusion while en-route to the surgical team.

“The lead had to stay over head to continue to provide suppressive fire for the trail,” George said. “So they had to keep providing care while the HH-60G went into hard banks and fired the 50 cal., machine gun. They had to provide high level trauma medical care while the aircraft was in the middle of a combat mission.”

Upon return to their forward operating base, Cole was notified that the ground force had sustained more casualties. He immediately directed his team to reload the aircraft and return to the incident site.

After a second flight, they were once again running gun passes to get into the zone. Cole decided to have his trail aircraft land to pick up the remaining casualty. During this time his aircraft conducted close air support for the ground forces.

“We were forward and very reactive so we got overhead very quickly,” George said. “That part of getting notified and overhead really made a difference in how the mission happened. Those lives were saved because we were prepared and able to get overhead very quickly.”

Cole and his team’s actions saved the lives of four military personnel including one local force member and brought one fallen U.S. service member home. 

“We do this because we believe in the mission,” George said. “You trust your training and the guy next to you. We really believe in what we do. To have them be recognized to me is a marker of how important this is, and gives me a chance to reflect [on] the type of people we have in an organization in like this and the difference we can make.”