Personnel recovery more than single tactical event – USAFE and 3rd Air Force host JPRA training

by Paul D. Baldwin
3rd Air Force Public Affairs

Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and HQ Third Air Force hosted a Joint Personnel Recovery Agency mobile training team Dec. 5 through Dec. 14 on Ramstein to prepare service members for personnel recovery missions. More than 175 people from a variety of specialties and backgrounds took part in courses covering personnel recovery planning, intelligence support, reintegration team responsibilities, and debriefing procedures. The training included practical exercises simulating real world scenarios, and focused on the five personnel recovery tasks of reporting, locating, supporting, recovering and reintegrating individuals in a survival, capture, exploitation or escape situation.

While PR specialists took part in the training, the primary purpose was to educate and train service members whose jobs touch the behind-the-scenes activities of planning, execution and reintegration of a returnee. The sensational tactical event of recovering an isolated person draws headlines, but the actions taken by all the other members who help get the returnee integrated back into society is just as important.

Staff Sgt. Peter McCurry, HQ USAFE Communications directorate unit deployment manager, said the training gave him insight into how the PR mission is  accomplished while making sure deployers are taken care of. “This information is important for me to know,” said Mccurry. “If there are any (PR) issues like this that come up, we can take care of if it personally and professionally.”

A common misperception is that personnel recovery is just the final moment where pararescue Airmen hoist up a downed pilot, said Eric Heitman, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency trainer.

“PR is more than just a tactical event in our battle space,” he said.
Lt. Col. Joseph Less, USAFE Personnel Recovery Branch chief, said the training is important because it prepares service members to be ready to go, from planning to execution. The training was also meant to increase their “sight picture” about all aspects involved in the personnel recovery process, he said.

In 2009, the Air Force designated personnel recovery as a core function, and the 2011 Air Force Posture Statement reaffirmed PR as a vital service core function in support of every contingency operation.

“PR happens long before the event occurs,” said Capt. Joseph Lopez, USAFE Personnel Recovery and Combat Rescue Officer functional area manager. “If you’re doing everything right you hope that never occurs. But if it does, we have trained and rehearsed our staff and recovery forces to successfully recover and reintegrate anyone isolated in U.S. European Command or U.S. Africa Command.”

The goal of reintegration is to attend to medical needs of the returnee and gather information about the event. The process attempts to minimize post traumatic stress and family adjustment problems. It also prepares the returnee and family for social situations such as interacting with mass media.
A V Corps intelligence Soldier said the training gave him insight into the recovery of captured or detained persons.

“It helps us come up with logical questions, as far as answering combatant commanders’ intelligence requirements, when we are trying to retrieve detained or captured persons,” said the Soldier. Since 2009, USAFE and 3rd Air Force supported 11 reintegrations involving 25 people.

“Everything we are teaching here relays back to that strategic picture of trying to keep an American face off the front pages (of the news),” said Less. “If it does occur (then) we go through the right steps and timely procedures to get our folks back.”