“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” – Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

By: BRANDON J. LINGLE, Maj, USAF
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

The sixth and final episode of Inside Combat Rescue airs tonight, culminating a 14-month collaboration between National Geographic Channel and the U.S. Air Force. In this episode, Coming Home, we see the various meanings of these words and the very real costs of war.

Tonight’s finale comes nearly two months after National Geographic Channel hosted the first screening of the series at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. for more than 700 cadets and faculty. Inside Combat Rescue cast and crew—Jared McGilliard, series producer; Staff Sgt. Brett Taylor, Pararescueman; Capt. Seth Davis, Combat Rescue Officer; and Maj. Devin Ryan, HH-60G helicopter pilot—then answered questions from the audience. The sneak peek and panel discussion offered a unique way to share the stark realities of the war in Afghanistan with Air Force Academy cadets—future military officers—who want and need to hear about war.

The idea of coming home especially resonated at the Academy that day. On the other side of the globe, rescuers recovered Maj. Lucas Gruenther’s body from the Adriatic Sea following a several-day search. Gruenther, an ’03 Academy graduate, perished when his F-16 went down on a training sortie. The Inside Combat Rescue panelists were largely unaware, but some cadets spoke quietly about the lost pilot, and mulled his story’s warnings, as they filed into the auditorium.

While the Academy is much like any college around the country, reminders of war echo throughout the grounds. The campus teems with statues, quotes, and images that honor bravery and sacrifice. But tidy memorials and historical vignettes do little to put a human face on war, and these abstractions can drown out the grim realities. Inside Combat Rescue strips away the politics, rhetoric, and posturing to provide a personal view of the conflict. The show’s unflinching look at war imparted an important first-person perspective for these young Airmen… some of whom will deploy to Afghanistan before the year’s end.

In an auditorium 200 yards from the Academy’s dark granite war memorial listing graduates killed in combat, the standing-room only crowd asked varied questions ranging from embed logistics and filming techniques to details of pararescue training and deployed life. But, the panelists especially grappled with one cadet’s question: “Does this series romanticize war?”

Jared McGilliard, Inside Combat Rescue series producer, acknowledged that he battled this reality throughout filming and post-production. He came to the conclusion that one way to guard against war’s glorification is to honestly portray the real costs. “This series brings to light not only the true, unblinking, and brutal consequences of war, but the humanity of it as well. It’s a perspective that should be shown, discussed, and honored,” he said. “We stayed very true to the story of the rescuer’s mission and the realities of this war. If anyone should be honored, the Airmen in this show should be. No group of people, and no other mission, is more deserving of the spotlight.”

Major Devin Ryan, a HH-60G helicopter pilot said, “I have no problem that combat rescue and personnel recovery gets romanticized. We’re not killing, we’re saving lives.”

“Our biggest goal was to make something that the people involved could look back on and be proud of,” said McGilliard. “I hope it creates conversations about this war. The media has shied away from telling the story of this war. The outcome of this is that the sacrifices many of our servicemen and women have made there, whether in death or in brutal injuries like amputations, have been too easily forgotten. I hope this show not only sheds light and introduces the public to the rescuers, but also the stories of the heroes who have paid a larger price in this war. History is told in stories. I fear that without these stories, this war and the people who have been affected the most may be forgotten. Hopefully this series can play a role in never forgetting.”

While the Academy audience has some understanding of the costs of war, an overwhelming majority of Americans likely do not. Inside Combat Rescue may help narrow the gap in understanding between the 99 percent of Americans who have no connections with the military during these wars and the 1 percent who do, and the even smaller percentage who have been involved in combat.

Author Donald Anderson writes in When War Becomes Personal, “If it seems to fall to the historian to make distinctions among wars, each war’s larger means and ends, the trajectory for the artist, regardless of culture or time, seems to fall towards an individual’s disillusionment, the means and ends of war played out in the personal. For the individual soldier, the sweeping facts of history are accurately written not in the omniscient, third-person plural, but in the singular first.”

With Inside Combat Rescue, we’re lucky to see some first-person perspectives from America’s longest war.

Don’t miss the final episode of Inside Combat Rescue, Coming Home, tonight at 10P.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, Department of Defense or United States government.

Comments

  1. Diana B.
    Texas
    March 25, 2013, 4:52 pm

    It is so very true that the general public like me get the Hollywood version of war all the time, or the glorification of it; but National G. has done excellent documentaries and this is no exception,by listening to the pj’s stories, their reflections on what they are doing and the reality of injured humans takes you to war on a different level. Much respect to the Para rescuers and the armed forces and thanks to the Nat Geo team for making it possible to film it.

  2. chad locy
    massena,n.y.
    March 25, 2013, 10:17 pm

    i just got done watching the final episode of inside combat rescue and apsolutely loved every episode please please please as shelfish as this may seem bring it back 6 episodes its a teaser i could watch these brave men which i respect and honor from the bottom of my heart every week god bless our heroes near and far and god bless the usa thank you

  3. michael pruitt (SFC, USA-PDRL)
    Texas
    March 25, 2013, 10:17 pm

    incredible series!! totally captivating from start to finish….it was like a book that I couldn’t put down. More like this PLEASE!!!!

    as a former Army medic, it certainly hit close to home.

  4. Robin Fee
    north hollywood,ca
    March 26, 2013, 12:48 am

    thanks to everyone involved in making this series, esp the PJ’s you are amazing, I watched in awe and pride. Anyone who romanticizes war is one sick puppy. And if we do not learn from history its bound to repeat itself. thank you

  5. Eaton Cote
    Iowa
    March 26, 2013, 12:41 pm

    My son just passed the USAF Spec Ops/Pararescue physical assessment test. Now in the dental wing, he will be entering PJ school next Summer. He has opened my eyes to how incredible these guys are, and this show does a great job of backing that up, and portraying what their world consists of. I sure hope they continue on with the series. It certainly builds American pride to see our Airmen saving lives. Thank you for bringing this show to us.

  6. Doc Cunningham
    AZ
    March 26, 2013, 1:18 pm

    As a former SARC this hits every close to home.
    I get the patch “PJ” & PJTL” but what is “CRO”
    Great series!!
    HM2 DV/PJ

  7. Doc Cunningham
    March 26, 2013, 1:28 pm

    got it! Combat Rescue Officer.

  8. Sandra Andrews
    Los Angeles, CA
    March 26, 2013, 2:01 pm

    This is by far one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It really put things into perspective and makes you realize the things you take for granted on a daily basis. It’s amazing how these men will put their lives in danger to save someone they don’t even know. They’re true heros in my eyes.

  9. linda S.
    Burbank, CA
    March 26, 2013, 6:13 pm

    We need more shows like this one to show the true horror and cost of battle and the fine men like the PJs who risk their life in trying to save others. Great show, would love to see more episodes.

  10. leona
    il.
    March 26, 2013, 6:35 pm

    my husband and me watched every combat rescue show and … we loved it !! please bring it back!!!! combat rescue is the best !!!! and so is national geographic… yous did a great job!!! so when is it going to be back? soon we hope!

  11. Debbie Carver
    March 26, 2013, 8:17 pm

    Great Series ! PLEASE DON’T END IT…..

  12. Henry
    Florida
    March 26, 2013, 9:04 pm

    Thank you for an exceptional program, I sincerely hope that this was not a one-and-done series. Amid all the other garbage that is being shown on television right now, this was by far one of the most genuine and interesting things I have watched in a long time.

  13. Sally P.
    Las Vegas
    March 26, 2013, 9:34 pm

    This show was amazing. It portrayed the men in such a way that I am awe in what they do and what they go through emotionally. Thank god we have them to fight for, protect, and save those who fight for our freedom. Thank you to National Geographic for letting us into their world, and even though it is selfish on my part, I hope they produce more episodes. Those men and their families will always be in my thoughts and prayers!

  14. Kristin Spain
    Foley, AL
    March 27, 2013, 12:49 am

    I am speechless and in awe! For the first time I was able to see part, however small in its measurement, of what my husband lived every day for 12 months during Desert Storm/Shield. He retired after 18 years of Army service and I have since lived with the effects of what he saw and experienced during his service..both war time and peace. The battle scars go on forever. ! God Bless all of our service members!

  15. Matthew Mundy
    Elizabethtown, Pa
    March 27, 2013, 6:33 am

    Thank-you Combat Rescue Teams for your great service. You have opened my eyes to a greater understanding of the dangers involved in everyday of your service. This has been a Epic series and is a must see for every American.

  16. Gary Taylor
    Camarillo, CA
    March 27, 2013, 9:28 am

    First and foremost, I want to thank Brett and Eric, my sons who both served and still serve their country. I want to thank the Nat Geo film crew, the producers and all involved, as the shows were done very well and told the story of what the PJs do and are faced with on a daily basis. Karen (the boy’s Mom) and I are so Proud of Brett what he has accomplished in the Air Force and the man he has become because of what he does. Thank You National Geographic for showing what these brave, smart, dedicated, and heroic men do for a living. I know this was the first time in PJ history that anyone has shown what they actually do, the conditions they work under inside those Pave Hawks. I am very appreciative of what you guys have shown and the way you stepped back allowing the PJs to operate. I am also very relieved all the men and women shown have made it home to their families.

  17. Bryce G
    Colorado
    March 27, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Thank you for your service. This was a amazing show. Wish I would of known about the PJ 20 years ago. Thanks for every soul you saved and touched.

  18. Nancy
    Minnesota
    March 27, 2013, 7:19 pm

    I saw an episode where the rescuer said they did not have a chance to honor the fallen soldier, but I think just by being there and being willing to do what you do you have honored every fallen soldier ever. My daughter is in the Army National Guard and God willing she will never see what you see overseas, but I pray for each and every member of our Military. Seeing her training has given me a new respect for what our military personnel go through just in training. God Bless All of You each and every day. Thank you, from a mom.

  19. Larry
    Illinois
    March 28, 2013, 4:12 pm

    This is a great program. My thanks to the PJ’s and Pilots who fly these missions. You are true Hero’s. So others may live is a statement you take true to heart. Thank You and all our military forces in harms way. Without you America would not be the Home of the Free.

  20. Bryan
    Texas
    March 28, 2013, 7:27 pm

    Great documentary! The men whose lives were put in front of America exemplified what honor , duty and compassion really mean. I was especially moved by how real and honest the acts of war were presented and not glorified or made to demean those put in harms way. To all who serve, thanks. You are all true heroes.

  21. Richard
    Connecticut
    March 28, 2013, 8:48 pm

    watched every show each one better than previous wife and I cried for that fallen hero at the end of last show

  22. Evan
    Arlington Heights, IL
    March 28, 2013, 9:55 pm

    Love the series, and I was hoping it would get talked about more in the media. I do hope the USAF let’s you do another 6 episodes. It doesn’t romanticize war at all, it shows the reality of war.

    Much respect to the parajumpers.

  23. Michelle Mattingly
    Louisville
    March 28, 2013, 10:32 pm

    The PJs are rock stars!! That is the only way to describe them. Amazing!! As a nurse I know what its like to try and start an IV on a crashing patient but to do it on helicopter in a war zone, you have my utmost respect. Then Chris “crics” the wounded soldier, Unbelievable.
    I want to thank everyone for their service to our country and Nat Geo for bringing us their stories.

  24. Eric
    Tulsa, OK
    March 28, 2013, 11:11 pm

    Absolutely loved this series! From the first 5 minutes of the first show, I couldn’t get enough. PLEASE film more of this! 6 episodes was not enough, I’d watch this everyday if I could. Those PJ’s are top notch, I sure hope Nat Geo finds a way to return and film more from this same base, kudos to showing something worth watching on TV.

  25. Tyana
    Minnesota
    March 29, 2013, 9:23 am

    This was one of the most amazing shows I have ever seen. It really was an eye opener for someone who really knows little about what is going on over there except what the media “chooses” for us to see. To see that they are not only helping our own troops, but the citizens of that country is so amazing (especially the children). I hope to see more documentaries like this in the future, or a continuation of this one. Great job National Geographic, and sincere gratitude goes out to all the men and women over there that put their own life on the line to protect and save others.

  26. David Dussault
    Swansea MA
    March 29, 2013, 11:07 am

    As as retired USAF MSgt and medic I’m just repeating all the other comments. This series not only showed the realities of war, it told the story of the men and women who do the work. We saw the wounded, but it showed the character of th PJs and hospital staff. All pros. PJs are not just incredible medical lifesavers, they are also prepared to fight. And above all, they are quality people with families at home. Please do another season. Not only do Americans need to see this, President Karzai need to and realize how we save Afghani soldiers and civilians every day, victims of the Taliban.

  27. jake
    March 29, 2013, 1:28 pm

    i am from a military family and I am joining up soon, please continue the show. People need to realize that war is real, so far mostly only books show that reality, this is a great way to show the reality of it.

  28. CLowe
    Chicago, IL
    March 29, 2013, 5:53 pm

    This show really needs to be continued into at least another season. I’m not a TV watcher by any means, but this is an absolute “must see”. As an Air Force vet, I feel strongly that this show tells the story that the world generally doesn’t get to see. There is no greater cause thatn what these guys do. Please, Nat Geo, bring this back. Continue to tell the story that needs to be told.

  29. Leyla
    San Francisco
    March 29, 2013, 8:09 pm

    This is an incredible show. I hope to see more episodes in the future.

  30. Sandy G.
    Hillsboro, OR
    March 31, 2013, 3:45 am

    I didn’t miss a single episode. The PJ’s are really amazing guys. It makes me proud to be an American. I would also like to see many more in this series. Please follow the guys that were featured in this series. I want to know that they got home in the end safe and sound. Thank you NatGeo!

  31. Greg
    Texas
    March 31, 2013, 7:48 am

    When the alarm sounds to alert the guys of a call. What does the alarm say?

  32. Jim
    Austin, TX
    March 31, 2013, 8:55 pm

    One of the most difficult to watch shows ever. I puts life into perspective. As a former submariner, I can appreciate the risk these guys take, even though until this program, I never really thought about who would be doing this work. I came to wonder, though, why the Afghan government/military didn’t seem to have an equivalent operation.

  33. michael weirich
    wisconsin
    April 1, 2013, 5:55 pm

    great show i love the airforce,great action it doesn’t get anymore real than this.

  34. Renny Worker
    Croatia
    April 1, 2013, 5:59 pm

    Big fan of NG docs,huge fan of this one.Just one question :got the PJ and CRO acronyms but what the PJTL stands for? Is it Team Leader or what?
    And another thing,what does that voice of alarm saying?
    Thanks in advance and bless all the PJ’s out there!

  35. Michyy
    Los Angeles , CA
    April 1, 2013, 9:15 pm

    I loved this show! Its basically the real thing and not sugar-coated hollywood crap . I didn’t miss a single episode . I’m thankful to be an American and have such brave soldiers like them serving our country. They’re such great and attractive guys . This show is exactly what Ineeded

  36. Michyy
    Los Angeles , CA
    April 1, 2013, 9:17 pm

    I loved this show! Its basically the real thing and not sugar-coated hollywood crap . I didn’t miss a single episode . I’m thankful to be an American and have such brave soldiers like them serving our country. They’re such great and attractive guys . This show is exactly what I needed to help me make my decision on joing the military

  37. Michele
    New York
    April 4, 2013, 3:41 pm

    God bless those men and thank to those amazing men. I am such of their dedication and spirit. They are truly amazing and selfless.

  38. Spag
    Elkin NC
    April 5, 2013, 9:28 pm

    PJ’s Thank you for all you do! I had the chance in USAF basic training to take the Para-rescue fitness test but I heard what the wash out rate was and didn’t want to lose my promised job as a Firefighter! I’m a Firefighter/EMT for Winston-Salem NC now after my years in the AF. I saw on one episode of Combat Rescue that PJ Chris was from Winston-Salem, I’d like to get a hold of him and and give him one of my Rescue 1 shirts.
    This series needs to keep going it is very well done and everyone that I know that has seen it has loved it!!

  39. Rebecca Groves
    Buellton, CA
    April 8, 2013, 10:14 am

    Hello Gary Taylor,
    I am writing in regards to your son Brett. As I watched him on Inside Combat Rescue, I was truly amazed by his actions.

    Brett is a grown man that reminds me of my son.

    One question I have, “Is Brett still in the Air Force?”

    Thank you.

  40. Lucas Spain
    nellis afb
    April 11, 2013, 10:53 am

    The sound of the alarm when the 9-line’s dropped said, “Leroy Jenkins!”

  41. Paul Laz
    London, UK
    April 14, 2013, 5:14 pm

    Such a fantastic series. It really opens the lid and gives us a view of a war never or rarely ever told. Incredible stories that highlight the true human cost of war, the courage and life on the front line and also a windows into home life. I have a new found respect for these guys and a renewed attititude to war

  42. Nick Lodge
    United States of America
    April 17, 2013, 2:23 am

    Just wanted to say every Pj in this show are amazing people and you all are a huge inspiration to me. I joined the AF and will be leaving for BMT in September. You men show the viewers of this show how the military makes a difference for this country and I will be honored to one day serve with you. Thank you for all the sacrifices that you make for us stay safe out there. God bless you.

  43. Mark Bar
    Ontario Canada
    April 23, 2013, 8:11 pm

    Awesome show! Great POV shots and good info. Great to see the guys keep cool under pressure. Just finished watching my first episode tonight. I really hope this show keeps on. Really appreciate that you (national geo) didn’t go down the “reality TV style over dramatic” road making this show more dramatic by adding extra sound effects and such. Good job on keeping it as real as it is. Word to the PJs: Awesome work boys! Heros amongst heros.

  44. Israel Mantilla
    Florida
    April 24, 2013, 1:36 am

    I am so happy to have the privilege of watching our heroes and giving them the honor they deserve. I am a graduate of the university of florida and now I understand why priority is given to veterans when employment opportunities arise. THEY DESERVE IT!!!! That and much more… The risk their butts off for us while we live here in peace. I am sorry for not being there.. And I will do everything I can to keep on supporting you and all US Armed Forces. I will pay more tax just so that they receive the compensation they deserve. And on a quick note: I think we should really support the children of soldiers lost in battle.. They don’t deserve to be left alone.. Thank you Net GEO.. Please continue to bring us the stories of our Armed Forces..

  45. Jes Ortiz
    Rhode Island
    May 5, 2013, 9:39 pm

    I watched all six episoses today back-to-back, transfixed. After the first 2, I called my 10 yr old over to come watch. Although it was gritty, I wanted her to see and realize what our brave and skilled service men and women struggle with so far away from home. Soon my wife, an RN, left her laptop to come watch and elaborate on the tecniques used. War is not glamorous or romantic, its cutting open the throat of a man and sticking a breathing tube down his throat…the same man who you fear just may have a bomb strapped to him and kill you and all your buddies. We have been there way too long. Lets bring these most special of our citizens home already so they may enjoy their families. Go PJ’s!

  46. b frazee
    barkhamsted,ct
    May 8, 2013, 7:33 pm

    So when the guys, in turn, kissed the wounded…I pretty much lost it. I’m a Navy brat and my Mom, God bless is a Wave, having done WW2 & Korea. Thanks to all who serve..
    Barbara

  47. b frazee
    May 8, 2013, 7:46 pm

    I want to know what happened to the guy who lost his right leg. How can I connect w/him? He was so with it during this terrible thing. Would like to know

  48. Patricia
    St. Ignatius MT
    May 11, 2013, 8:45 pm

    Wow. Just finished the series. Thank you Nat Geo, thank you USAF and thank you PJ’s and others. Thank you for letting my family see into a sacred part of your life, your career. Truly a humbling experience.

  49. Amie maeli
    Hurricane
    May 12, 2013, 8:21 pm

    I loved this show, wish you would air it all again and produce more like it!

  50. greg
    kelowna, bc, canada
    May 23, 2013, 10:22 pm

    Love and respect for the brave and honorable cameramen/persons risking their lives to bring these images to the world, may God bless you and God bless America.

  51. MK
    Boston, MA
    May 28, 2013, 8:22 pm

    As a USAF veteran, I’m thrilled that the Pararescue community is finally being recognized. PJs endure incredibly arduous and long training – with a washout rate higher than Navy seals. True professionals and great Americans – these are the heroes our kids should learn about. Nat Geo – Great job telling it like it is!

  52. Chris
    England
    May 30, 2013, 7:18 am

    Amazing show, really gave a very real look into the modern day combat in Kandahar. Was wondering if you Guys are going to make another series? I’m fairly sure that everyone who watched the first is 100% behind a second

  53. Mike
    North of US
    May 30, 2013, 10:07 am

    The Alarm
    The alarm says “Leroy Jenkins”… its a recording from a video game World of Warcraft. It’s what a player said just before he ran head strong into certain death.

    Only fitting the same alarm sounds before the PJs do the same.

  54. Donna
    Georgia
    July 13, 2013, 5:52 am

    I know that I am late in posting this, but I wanted to express my gratitude first, to the men and women serving our country. No one, except you, truly knows the sacrifices that you have made, but, thanks to NatGeo, a window has been opened so that we can better understand. My father served in Korea. He experienced extreme frostbite in both of his lower legs and suffered physically for the rest of his life. However, the emotional and physical toll that his service took on him were even more apparent. Sadly, help for men of that “generation” wasn’t available, or they were so often told to “buck up” they they did not seek help. He did not speak often of what he saw , but I know that from the little that he told me, it was the women and children that they found on re-con that gave him nightmares for evermore after his service. So, I do know somewhat of your sacrifice, and how much it can cost you. I wish you the very best and pray that God blesses you.

  55. Eureka
    South Africa Centurion, Pretoria
    August 12, 2013, 7:35 am

    Wow, appreciate what you have at home, these guys are doing a great job whish I can be there to help them.

    War is raw, however this makes you think how precious life, love and our God in Heaven is.

    A Great big hug to all the USA Army guys and girls.

    Love
    Eureka

  56. Masnanie
    Malaysia
    August 12, 2013, 10:59 pm

    How can I contact Staff Sgt. Brett Taylor?

  57. Chatis
    Thailand
    August 19, 2013, 11:40 pm

    It is a great story, never seen before. NG helps us know what really happening in the real war, not like Hollywood show. I salute all PJs and Soldiers who fight and die for us and let us live peacefully back home.

    I love the series but I want the war to end soon

  58. Lynsey Hutsby
    Lincolnshire, UK
    May 7, 12:26 pm

    I’ve only just discovered this show here in the UK by accident on YouTube. Well what can I say, this show was amazing and showed us first hand what special brave guys these are. They are truly heroes. No doubt. I’ve watched all 6 episodes and shed many tears but the way this was filmed was respectful and didn’t ‘dramatise’ the war in any way. I’ve already watched all 6 episodes at least twice. I’ve just learnt there won’t be another series but will be a 2 hour special this summer 2014 so I’m looking forward to that but absolutely gutted there won’t be another series following these guys. We were invited into there lives whilst on deployment so kinda feel like we ‘know’ them so it would be lovely to see these guys again. I hope the ‘special’ follows these same guys. I really can’t imagine how hard it is for the parents, wives etc whilst they are away on deployment, I’d be an absolute nervous wreck so huge respect goes to you too. It’s nice to see a proud Dad’s comments above. Mr Taylor you have every right to be proud of your sons. I know it’s awhile since this program was made so does anybody know if all these guys are still safe and sound??
    One last thing-I’m trying really hard to find a military penpal but had no luck so if anyone knows any guys in the military who would like to write to me then please get in touch. Xx

  59. Richard Wolf
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    November 6, 11:50 pm

    Anybody who says they want to see another season of this show needs their head examined and I felt that this show was amazing. I say this show was amazing not because I felt it was exciting or anything similar to that, but because it portrayed the “human costs” of war. This war has already taken enough lives and it has also crippled enough people too (most of them young adults 18-22). I watched a show called “Fighting on the Front Lines” one episode of which covered Great Britain’s version of PJ’s (available on Netflix) and they asked one of the soldiers what people will remember about the war and his reply was “the amputees”. I believe he is right. I guess that is just my 2 pennies and the last thing I’m going to say is that the only way I would want to see another season of this show is if it was about nothing but the end of the war, the safe return of all the soldiers who are still currently fighting or performing other missions (like the PJ’s), and the U.S. government doing right (i.e. providing the best medical care until it is no longer necessary regardless of the cost) by the soldiers who require care because they were injured while fighting for the safety of America as a whole. I want to personally thank all the soldiers for the sacrifices they made.