It’s 42 degrees on a dark and windless morning; the sun will arrive in 20 minutes. Florescent lights cut the dawn through an open door from a converted metal shed that serves as a gym for an elite group of U.S. Air Force personnel.
Inside the rectangular building are a group of military personnel and at the opposite end from the open door, sits a round table with a white table cloth and a single red rose.
Members of the 306th Rescue Squadron participated in an honorary workout in memoriam of Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. Pitsenbarger is the only PJ who has been awarded the Medal of Honor.
The PJ motto is “These things we do that others may live,” and this creed is exemplified by the actions of Pitsenbarger on April 11, 1966. The 306th RQS honored Pits with a special workout.
In the rescue community these honorary workouts are known as a monster mash, that consist of a series of demanding physical activities performed in honor of a retirement or a fallen comrade.
Master Sgt. Matt, 306th RQS pararescueman, calls the group’s attention to formally begin the monster mash ceremony.
“The point of today’s workout is to come together as a team and be a part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than any one individual,” Matt said. “Remember the ones that have given their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
The five points of notice spoken during the ceremony are:
Remember A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, killed in action April 11, 1966. He was 21 years old and had completed more than 300 rescue missions.
Remember the 58,220 service men and women killed in action and 153,000 wounded in action during the Vietnam War.
There are 1,587 service members still missing in action; the surviving family members have not had closure.
There were 2.59 million service members who served during the Vietnam conflict.
Teamwork, it is together that we accomplish the mission.
Chief Master Sgt. Luke, 306th RQS pararescueman, read Pitsenbarger’s Medal of Honor citation.
“With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground. On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day was recovered, Airman Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get more wounded soldiers to safety.”
Next Master Sgt. Jason, 306th RQS pararescueman, read the Missing Man Table and Honors ceremony. A solemn remembrance of the prisoners of war and those still missing in action.
When the formal ceremony is completed, the group breaks off into teams of two to four people.
The workout is designed to simulate the movements and techniques utilized by Pitsenbarger on the battlefield during his heroic and final day.
“We started with a 400-meter run simulating his insertion onto the battlefield,” Matt said. “We continued with 500M litter carry, simulating all the patients that he was carrying around in the battlefield. Using the slam balls and sledgehammer swings simulated dispersing ammo and medical equipment to the troops and moving gear from one casualty collection point to another.”
A total of 700 meters of buddy carries are performed to simulate all the wounded patients Pits carried. Additionally, 50 pounds of water in jerry cans were carried a quarter of a mile to simulate dragging the wounded soldier by their collar or uniform.
Included was a 100-meter bear crawl while dragging a rescue stretcher ladened with 150 pounds while under gun-fire simulated pulling a patient to safety.
“The whole workout is staying low, staying under cover and carrying patients from the battlefield,” Matt said.
Interspersed participants also do 66 pull-ups, 66 burpee mountain climbers, 50 slam ball throws and every two minutes stop what they’re doing to perform two burpees to simulate getting shot at.
Each team completes the monster mash in less than 30 minutes. The grueling workout is inspirational and layered with meaning. Memorial pushups close out the ceremony.
Pitsenbarger is a true hero, a man of extreme valor and a source for inspiration and emulation in the pararescue career field. He and the many others who lived and died with the creed, that others may live, will not be forgotten.