Story by Randy Roughton, Air Force News Service
Almost every time Barbara Inman hears a helicopter flying near her home in Anchorage, Alaska, she wonders if one of her two sons is on the way to save another life.
Staff Sgts. Cody and Jake Inman are both part of the Alaska Air National Guard’s rescue mission here. Cody is a pararescueman with the 212th Rescue Squadron while his brother is an HH-60 Pave Hawk special mission aviator in the 210th RQS, a new Air Force Specialty Code that combined the former aerial gunner and flight engineer career fields.
“My mom and dad (Michael) are always curious,” Cody said. “My mom thinks we’re on every helicopter in the state. She will text me, ‘Are you guys on a mission?’ I tell her, ‘No, Mom. We’re both off today.’”
While they were growing up in Anchorage, the brothers weren’t particularly close, partly because Cody was more than three years older than Jake. Working the same mission across the street from each other in their respective squadrons for the past two years seems to have strengthened their bond as brothers. However, when one brother knows the other is on a mission, the concern isn’t much different than it would be for any fellow squadron member. That’s because they both consider them brothers, as well.
“We both have pretty tight-knit squadrons, and I think we see everyone in our squadrons as kind of like our own brothers,” Jake said. “When my brother is out on a mission, I know the guys I fly with are going to do their absolute best every time they’re on a rescue. We work with an amazing group of professional people. I don’t doubt anyone he goes out with, and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me, either. So when he’s out on a mission, he’s not really much different from any other guy in my squadron.
“Obviously, there’s a little of that worry factor, but we’re all professionals and want to get the job done. We know there’s a certain amount of danger and risk involved with doing what we do. We just accept that and hope for the best.”
In 2003, Cody joined the Marine Corps, and Jake joined the ANG three years later when he graduated from high school. While serving in infantry, Cody encountered a number of pararescuemen, and their stories, combined with the lifesaving mission, convinced him to leave the Marines and join his brother in the Alaska ANG in 2009.
“If I had tried to become a pararescueman (after high school), I would not have made it,” Cody said. “The Marine Corps laid a foundation that allowed me to make it through the training at an older age. The chances of me making it through my school at the age of 18 would have been impossible.”
About the same time his brother began his training, Jake finally got his wish of cross-training from crew chief to flight engineer. They were reunited while both were still in training at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and then moved on to their respective squadrons back in Alaska.
The 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons conduct rescue operations in support of an 11th Air Force memorandum of understanding with the Alaska ANG, said Maj. Matthew Komatsu, 212th RQS director of operations. The late Sen. Ted Stevens pushed for a rapid rescue capability in the state after a plane crash at the Anchorage International Airport killed five people, including his wife, on Dec. 4, 1978. Stevens was also killed in a plane crash in Alaska on Aug. 9, 2010.
Two decades later, rescue crews continue to risk their lives under the motto, “That Others May Live.”
The 212th RQS is the only Guardian Angel squadron, which includes combat rescue officers, pararescuemen, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape, that is on 24/7 alert. So far this year, the squadron has completed about 55 missions and saved about 80 lives. Missions directed by the 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, also located here, passed the 2,000 lives saved milestone earlier this year.
The pace for both jobs can get hectic, especially in the late summer and early fall. During one recent four-day period, the 212th RQS was tasked with six rescue missions, which included five crashed or missing airplanes and a bear attack. The real-world rescue missions are part of the reason many pararescuemen call Alaska “PJ Heaven.”
“Up here, things can go from pretty standard to crazy in a heartbeat,” Cody said.
One of his first missions after joining the squadron was a perfect example. His HC-130 Hercules crew was sent to rescue a woman who was experiencing serious medical issues near the Arctic Circle. They flew to Eielson Air Force Base, where they planned to board a Pave Hawk to rescue the woman and take her to a local hospital. However, the helicopter was down, so they were forced to leave the Pave Hawk crew behind.
“It was life or death for this woman, so pretty instantly, the PJs on the HC-130 crew went from watching an iPad movie to exiting the aircraft at 27 below in the dark under the Northern Lights with wolves howling at them,” Cody said. “I don’t think the man in that cabin expected men to fall out of the sky to help his wife.”
While the brothers have found themselves working on the same missions, it’s never on the same aircraft. The squadrons try to ensure they will never be on the same airplane or helicopter. They have also never deployed to the same location at the same time. But there have been times when they were both deployed at different places.
“We can’t fly together on the same aircraft, so we don’t usually see each other while doing our actual jobs,” Jake said. “The majority of the time we see the other is either at alert briefings or squadron functions. I’d say we both try to keep our heads together and just do our jobs and don’t even think twice about the fact that we’re brothers. It just doesn’t seem to affect us too much. I do my job, and he does his.”
There is time spent together and with Cody’s wife and Jake’s girlfriend, but it usually doesn’t involve activities one would think would interest Airmen with jobs like they have. Taking advantage of Alaska’s hunting and fishing opportunities doesn’t interest them because they get plenty of adventure on the job.
“I’m probably the only guy in Alaska who doesn’t really hunt or fish,” Cody said. “My job as a PJ allows me to do a lot of the outdoorsy things I want to do like hiking and mountaineering because of the environment I’m working in. The job kind of swallows everything to the point where the spare time you do have, you want to spend with your family and just enjoy a quiet weekend.”
They don’t consider the fact that they’re siblings serving in the Air Guard’s unique rescue mission in Alaska as anything out of the ordinary.
“There’s nothing really special about us. There are plenty of sibling members in the Guard,” Cody said. “We just happen to be related to each other, and we’re both very happy to be working in our respective units with the people we work with. I enjoy my work every day, and I think my brother does as well. There are dudes who have done a ton more than we have who deserve a lot more credit.”
The brothers consider each other perfectly suited for their chosen career fields in the Alaska rescue mission. Jake thinks his brother’s attributes serve him well while climbing ropes to rescue injured hikers, hunters and plane crash survivors, while Cody has similar thoughts on his brother’s skills as a special mission aviator.
“My brother is perfectly suited for his job because he’s a lot more intelligent and analytical than I am, and to a less extent, not as emotional,” Cody said. “He’s the one feeling the pulse of the helicopter, and if something goes wrong, he’s going to be the first to know, while I’m probably in the back eating my candy bars or worrying about my harness. The special mission aviator is the first one I look at when I feel something’s funny with the helicopter. There is a huge amount of trust placed on them, and I think that suits him very well.”
“I think being in pararescue suits his personality very well,” Jake said. “It’s certainly not a job I could do. It’s not for me, it’s not for everyone. Our personalities are quite different.”
It turns out their mother’s reaction to a helicopter overhead isn’t that unusual. The brothers do that, too, when they know the other is on alert.
“If I’m at home, and I hear a helicopter fly over my house during the weekend, and I know my brother’s on alert, I will say, ‘There goes Jake.’ If I go on a mission somewhere, I’m sure it’s the same for him.”