SAN ANTONIO, Texas — More than 400 current and former pararescuemen, or PJs, and spectators gathered Sept. 17 to 21 for the 10th biennial PJ Rodeo, a chance for active-duty, Reserve and retired PJs to gather and compete in two-man teams for the title of “Best PJ,” here.
“It’s a competition that everyone takes seriously, but more importantly it’s about being together and networking with other PJs and hearing about what’s happening across the career field,” said Staff Sgt. Dan Fowler, 304th Rescue Squadron pararescueman from Portland, Oregon, and PJ Rodeo competitor.
PJs are the only Department of Defense elite combat force specifically trained and equipped to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery operations.
In addition to the PJ Rodeo itself, there were also PJ reunion events throughout the week. One person who attended the PJ Rodeo primarily for the reunion was Steve Vassar, who was an Air Force PJ from 1967 to 1969. Vassar was medically discharged in 1969 and lost touch with people in the PJ community until he attended the PJ Rodeos. “There are four or five people here I haven’t seen since the sixties,” Vassar said, “But, meeting them here, it’s like I just saw them yesterday.”
The event is organized by the Pararescue Association, a non-profit organization which strives to provide an extended community for PJs and their families, preserve the PJ heritage and spirit of the career field, and commemorate the memory of all service members across the career field who have given their lives in the defense of freedom.
Local Air Force members were brought in as volunteers and to help coordinate events. Competitors journeyed from across the Air Force to take part in the event.
The PJ Rodeo does more than provide camaraderie and networking opportunities. It also serves as a source of additional training for competitors.
“We’ve been shooting and jumping and practicing our tactical medicine. Every time you do that stuff, you get better at it,” said Staff Sgt. John Ansley, Fowler’s teammate. “Later we’ll all talk about how we went through each of these medical scenarios. The other teams are going to have different ideas and different techniques. I think there will be a lot to learn.”
Winners were announced during an award ceremony Friday.
First place, earning the title of "Best PJ", are Staff Sgts. Brock Thomas and Romen Ramirez, 68th Rescue Squadron, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
Second place are Staff Sgts. Daniel Fowl and Jonathan Ansley, 304th Rescue Squadron, Portland, Oregon.
Third place are Tech. Sgt. Nicolas Robillard and Staff Sgt. Chris Sanders, 350th Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.