That Others May Live: The True Story of a Pj, a Member of America's Most Daring Rescue Force

 
9780756761356: That Others May Live: The True Story of a Pj, a Member of America's Most Daring Rescue Force

THESE THINGS WE DO,
THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE.
--PJ MOTTO

They are the military's most elite force, a highly trained group of men serving the Air Force and National Guard with a mandate to fly behind enemy lines during war and rescue downed pilots. They are pararescue jumpers, or PJs for short, the most radically fit, mentally tough men in the armed forces. During peacetime, PJs keep their skills sharp with daring civilian rescues, recovering victims from scorching deserts, treacherous mountaintops, or raging seas. Most people learned of the PJs in The Perfect Storm, with its riveting account of how a helicopter of PJs from a squadron on Long Island plunged into the Atlantic during a rescue.

Senior Master Sergeant Jack Brehm was the PJ supervisor that night and coordinated the dramatic rescue efforts. Life-and-death situations are all in a day's work for the PJs, who are always on call, ready to put their own lives on the line so "that others may live." In an age seemingly devoid of heroes, these men are the real deal, a close-knit unit bound together by bravery and guts, selflessness and sacrifice, and the intense desire to both serve their country and live life on the edge.

That Others May Live is the thrilling story of Jack Brehm and his love affair with two things: the PJ way of life, and his wife, Peggy, the mother of his five children. In 1977, twenty-year-old Jack, an aimless kid from Long Island, made a decision that would alter the course of his life--he decided to become a PJ. He entered "Superman School," the indoctrination program where PJs are made. It is the toughest program in the military, more difficult than what the Navy SEALs or Army Special Ops go through. No one flunks out--it just gets harder and harder until most guys eliminate themselves. In other programs candidates might say, "They can beat me, but they can't kill me." In Superman School, the candidates say, "They can kill me, but they can't eat me."

Jack Brehm was transformed from a kid without a clue into a man with a purpose. He and nine other men graduated in the class of '78-03--they had the right stuff. More than eighty others in their class didn't. That Others May Live is a vivid, compelling account of Jack's twenty years as a PJ. We see him and his fellow PJs climb mountains and battle storms to save lives, struggle with their emotions as PJ friends die, wait anxiously to hear if they are called to war in a place such as Kosovo or the Persian Gulf, and try to keep their families together despite the enormous pressure of the job. Jack is luckier than most PJs, for he has Peggy and his five kids. In the end, it becomes clear who the real hero is in Jack's life: his rock-solid wife. Jack may wear the parachute, but Peggy wears the pants.

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Review:

That Others May Live is the story of one of America's most elite military units. The PJs--pararescue jumpers--are to the air force what the Green Berets are to the army and the SEALs are to the navy, even though they are less well known. There are only about 300 of them, and their main function is to rescue downed pilots, often behind enemy lines. They also perform civilian rescues. "There are no more capable rescuers than the PJs," writes Jack Brehm, a 20-year PJ veteran who penned this book with journalist Pete Nelson. "No one else knows how to fall five miles from the sky to rescue somebody. No one else trains to make rescues in such a wide variety of circumstances and conditions on a mountaintop, in the middle of the Sahara, or 1,000 miles out from shore in hurricane-tossed seas." Some readers will recall the PJs' minor role in Sebastian Junger's harrowing bookThe Perfect Storm; Brehm actually coordinated that PJ operation, and he tells his side of the story on these pages.

Most of That Others May Live (the title is a PJ motto) is told in the third person--an odd choice for a book that labels itself "autobiography" on the jacket. But it works well as Brehm describes everything from PJ training school (about 90 percent of enrollees quit) to family life (divorce rates are very high, even though Brehm is blessed with a supportive wife and five kids). The best parts of the book focus on daring PJ missions and include vivid accounts of, for instance, what free fall is like after jumping from a plane at 26,000 feet ("It's nothing like holding your arm out the window of a car moving at 125 mph. It's more like lying on a pillow of air, so restful you could almost fall asleep"). Brehm also reveals the startling low pay PJs receive: after a few promotions and a dozen years experience, he writes, they make "about what a high school graduate temping in an office can earn if she's really good at alphabetizing." Yet the job has plenty of other rewards for a certain type of person: "The stereotypical pararescueman gets a testosterone high from being physically fit, and an endorphin high from exercising, and then he gets an adrenaline high from parachuting out of an airplane to a victim in need of medical assistance, and then he gets a spiritual, godlike feeling of omnipotence from saving somebody's life, and then he goes to a bar after the mission and has a few shots of tequila to celebrate." Brehm assures readers that every PJ "will deviate" from this description, but the whole of his book reveals it to be a pretty good one-sentence sketch of PJ life. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

"An exciting book, a real page turner."        
--Tracy Kidder, author of Hometown and The Soul of a New Machine

"That Others May Live is not just a great adventure story. Reading about the exploits of the military's elite pararescue jumpers, our homegrown guardian angels, you can feel deeply the ache of decency, patriotism, service, and honor--the profound desire to make the world better that so defines and shapes the American mythology of altruism."
--Bob Shacochis, author of The Immaculate Invasion

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