Angel Thunder 2015 - US Air Force Pararescue

USAF PJ sets up communications with inbound USAF HH-60s and USN MH-60s, the helicopters will be hoisting the PJs and patients out of the forest and shuttling them to a casualty collection point.
During Angel Thunder 2015, I spent a full day at Camp Navajo, an Army National Guard facility just outside of Flagstaff, AZ. Camp Navajo was used for a large 'mass casualty evacuation' exercise featuring multinational and multi-agency rescue crews, including Pararescuemen from the US Air Force.

Montana Army National Guard CH-47s landing in the rain at
Camp Navajo to pick up the PJs and their equipment to shuttle
them into the exercise area.

The scenario for this exercise was humanitarian assistance after a flood in a fictitious country.

Local area fire, police, and sheriff officials participated, as well as Civil Air Patrol, acting as local first responders overwhelmed by the sheer scale of wounded and isolated people, they called for international assistance. USAF Pararescue responded, with the help of Montana Army National Guard CH-47s shuttling the PJs and their equipment to a nearby LZ, the PJs split up once on the ground - some staying at the LZ to set up a treatment area and casualty collection point, the rest moving into the flood affected areas to triage and evacuate the wounded.

PJs prepare to load their vehicles and equipment into the
waiting CH-47s.

The PJs faced with triage and evacuation, after a thorough search of the area for additional wounded, assisted local fire department paramedics in triaging, prioritizing, and treating the wounded while setting up communications with US Air Force and US Navy helicopters that would be coming in to hoist out the wounded and bring them to the other set up PJs at the casualty collection point.
A PJ based at Davis Monthan AFB in
Tucson, AZ. begins treating the

As the PJs busy with triage and evacuation
went about their mission, the PJs at the casualty collection point coordinated with a multinational contingent of helicopters that would be landing at the LZ. This set of helicopters would be transferring patients to a nearby airport where another multinational contingent of Aeromedical Evacuation squadrons were standing by with C-130 and C-17 aircraft.

The scenario lasted all day, as hoisting 75 individuals out of the forest by helicopter in 3's and 4's is no quick process. Multiple challenges would pop up for every exercise participant, some planned, some just organically occurring, which is to be expected in such a large and complex operation with so many moving parts.

I started the day with enormous respect for the Air Force PJs, but that respect just continued to grow all day long as I watched them work. It was truly humbling to observe and have the opportunity to photograph and interact with the PJs throughout the day, and all throughout Angel Thunder 2015.

From a photography standpoint, it was a beautiful 60 degree day with dynamic skies and changing light, so it could not have been better. I was lucky enough to have fairly unrestricted access to anything and anywhere in the exercise area, something not super common if you photograph military operations often, so it was great being able to shoot wherever and however I wanted.

USAF HH-60 departs the casualty collection point to conduct another hoist.

USAF HH-60 holds hover above a team of PJs while preparing to hoist patients.

USAF HH-60 hoisting up a PJ and patient.



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