Book Review – Michael Hirsh’s “None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the Afghanistan War”
A few days ago I finished reading Michael Hirsh’s historical tale of determination and bravery in None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the Afghanistan War. This book follows a couple of units of elite U.S. Air Force soldiers as they risk their lives and do whatever it takes so “That Others May Live.”
And that’s exactly the lifestyle and mentality presented throughout the book.
NOTE – My version of the book is called . . . The Afghanistan War, while the newer printing is called . . . The War on Terrorism. I do not know if there are any significant differences apart from the title between the two versions of the book.
The United States Air Force Pararescuemen (PJs) have been argued to have the absolute toughest training program in the U.S. military with dropout rates between 60-90%. Only the most determined and those fortunate enough to avoid injury manage to graduate from the program.
What sets the PJs apart is that instead of doing combat control, reconnaissance, hit-and-run, sabotage or other special forces combat, the PJs are primarily responsible for going into the toughest areas and doing whatever it takes to rescue downed airmen and aircrew members along with other soldiers. In addition, the PJs are also responsible for doing immediate medical treatment and stabilizing the soldier for transport to a Forward Surgical Team or to the nearest airbase.
In essence, these volunteer soldiers are almost like paramedics on steroids, only a few degrees of crazy beyond that. Throw in jumping out of airplanes at night to rescuing downed airmen from a C-130 crashed on a snowy mountain (at night) to fighting to and rescuing fellow soldiers while under heavy enemy fire (again at night), and there you go. That’s just a taste of some of the action that PJs encountered while in Afghanistan.
While most special forces units just need bad guys in the world in order for them to practice their skills in real life situations, for the PJs it’s a little bit different. The PJs need unfortunate situations to happen to allied forces (often involving fellow soldiers getting critically injured) in order for them to use their rescue and emergency medical skills. That being said, without the U.S. being involved in actual combat operations somewhere in the world, many of the PJs could go throughout their entire career without making an actual rescue after jumping out of an airplane or while pulling an injured soldier out of an area while under enemy fire.
As it’s stated in the book, many PJs serve stateside and do civilian water rescues, typically in Alaska and off the east coast. Others went overseas to the new war in Afghanistan and rarely encountered rescue situations. Based on the stories in the book, it sounded like most of the PJs had to be in the right place at the right time if they were to be a part of a real rescue mission.
The book itself is a fairly easy read as long as you understand military jargon and general tactics. I can see it being a bit overwhelming for others.
Most of the rescue tales do not take place in actual combat operations with bad guys shooting at all angles. I was hoping for more combat after looking at the book’s cover and reading a little bit into it, but like in real life, there’s a whole lot more in the life of a pararescueman than being in actual combat.
A bonus that I wasn’t expecting was the attention to detail with helicopter operations and just how much the flying machines were pushed to their maximum limits in the high mountains and thin air. When you talk about flying right on the edge, this is it. Large sections of this book were harrowing flying adventures.
Along with helicopters barely flying through snowy mountain passes, the book has two major incidents broken into several chapters. The first one involved a MC-130P (a special ops version of the C-130 Hercules) crashing into a snow covered mountain and the frustrations of bureaucracy not allowing PJs to land and offer their assistance any sooner than the vast amount of time that was wasted. The other multi-chapter mission for the PJs involved Operation Anaconda and coming under fire while rescuing wounded soldiers in the Shahi-Kot Valley.
And of course, virtually all of the operations and missions detailed throughout the book took place at night, increasing the level of difficulty for the heroic soldiers.
As a whole, this is an excellent book for those taking a serious look at going into special forces or even becoming a paramedic in the civilian world. It’s not all about combat and the military. The book focuses on the determination that it takes to pull off extremely dangerous rescues along with never giving up, looking at problems from other angles, and using whatever tools you have to accomplish your mission.