"All of the armed forces have some version of the pararescue jumper, but the Air National Guard jumpers—and their Air Force equivalents—are the only ones with an ongoing peacetime mission. Every time the space shuttle launches, an Air Guard C-130 from Westhampton Beach flies down to Florida to oversee the procedure. An Air Force rescue crew also flies to Africa to cover the rest of the shuttle's trajectory. Whenever a ship—of any nationality—finds itself in distress off North America, the Air National Guard can be called out. A Greek crewman, say, on a Liberian-flagged freighter, who has just fallen into a cargo hold, could have Guard jumpers parachute in to help him seven hundred miles out at sea. An Air Guard base in Alaska that recovers a lot of Air Force trainees is permanently on alert—'fully cocked and ready to go'—and the two other bases, in California and on Long Island, are on standby. If a crisis develops offshore, a crew is put together from the men on-base and whoever can be rounded up by telephone; typically, a helicopter crew can be airborne in under an hour.
"It takes eighteen months of full-time training to become a PJ, after which you owe the government four years of active service, which you're strongly encouraged to extend. (There are about 350 PJs around the country, but developing them is such a lengthy and expensive process that the government is hard put to replace the ones who are lost every year.) During the first three months of training, candidates are weeded out through sheer, raw abuse. The dropout rate is often over ninety percent. In one drill, the team swims their normal 4,000-yard workout, and then the instructor tosses his whistle into the pool. Ten guys fight for it, and whoever manages to blow it at the surface gets to leave the pool. His workout is over for the day. The instructor throws the whistle in again, and the nine remaining guys fight for it. This goes on until there's only one man left, and he's kicked out of PJ school. In a variation called 'water harassment,' two swimmers share a snorkel while instructors basically try to drown them. If either man breaks the surface and takes a breath, he's out of school. 'There were times we cried,' admits one PJ. But 'they've got to thin the ranks somehow.'" —Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm, 1997 (NY: HarperCollins, 1999), 175–176