Ramstein’s 37th Airlift 1st Combat Communications squadrons and the New York Air National Guard teamed up in support of NASA in its launch of the space shuttle Atlantis at Ramstein May 9.
The initial job for the three units began by loading rescue cargo into two C-130 Hercules aircraft on the Ramstein flightline.
With three days to prepare their equipment and clear their heads for the mission, the pararescuemen were on standby in case of an in-flight emergency involving the Atlantis, where the crew would have been forced to make an emergency exit.
“We have equipment to help us out if a situation arises,” said Maj. Shawn Fitzgerald, 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, New York Air National Guard combat rescue officer. “In case of an emergency, we throw out the Rigging Alternate Method, a zodiac boat with parachutes on it, and then the pararescuemen will jump out after the boats. (With the help of) dry suits, water protective equipment and medical gear, we have the ability to get anyone anywhere.”
While supporting NASA is a unique mission, the pararescuemen did not let this thought get in the way of their job.
“We are well trained for this type of mission,” Major Fitzgerald said. “Whether it’s a shuttle astronaut or an Air Force pilot, we will rescue them. The only difference is it is a crew instead of just one person, but we will get them.”
Several safety measures were taken in preparation for the Atlantis takeoff, and everyone involved realized their efforts were strictly precautionary.
“This system was developed after the Challenger exploded on launch,” Major Fitzgerald said. “Ever since then, we have not had any astronauts have to bail out.”
Although the pararescuemen have more than sufficient training, they would not be able to complete their mission without the support of Ramstein’s 1st CBCS.
“We provide information to support the pararescuemen,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Humphrey, 1st CBCS satellite communications technician. “We provide communication support between the John F. Kennedy Space Center, near Cape Canaveral, Fla., and the aircraft.”
Without that valuable communication link, the pararescuemen would not know where to jump in the event of a rescue.
“We will pass the data onto the pararescuemen, and we will keep the plane flying around the right area,” Sergeant Humphrey added.
Even though the 37th AS pilots fly this specific mission about twice a year, they do not take it any less serious.
“We are prepositioning for an emergency response,” said Capt. Siobhan Celusta, 37th AS flight commander. “This is one of the most important missions the 37th does.”
While being tasked by NASA might seem unreal, it is a reality to those at the 37th AS.
“We’re such a vital part to the mission for NASA,” the captain said. “Knowing that we are there to stand by in case of an emergency is pretty noble, and I am proud to be a part of that.”