While the average American spent the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks going about life as usual or thinking about how American life has changed since, Air Force Maj. Parkin Bryson spent it risking his life to save two wounded men.
The men were members of the Afghan National Army and stranded in the Kuh-e-Nilu Mountains of Afghanistan.
The 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron was put in charge of the mission with Bryson, a Durango native, as the lead pilot.
The squadron got to work planning the mission, which was going to require the men to act quickly and effectively because of the nature of the injuries, time, distance and elevation of the mountains, according to a news release from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Because of the elevation and the distance between the wounded men and the base, the flight engineer stripped as much weight as possible from the helicopter, and the men prepared to fly with only basic rescue and medical equipment.
But there was one other crucial aspect of the flight: The two rescue helicopters would have to refuel in midair.
To refuel, a tanker aircraft trails a hose and refueling line behind the helicopter, and the helicopter pilot has to gently make contact with it using the helicopters refueling probe, according to the release.
This was far from the typical mission.
Knowing we had to go that high, the big challenge was fuel load and fuel burn, Staff Sgt. Steven Prather, a flight engineer, said in the release. I had to run numbers to make sure we could get there. It wasnt a typical mission, but this is what we train for.
The men were in the helicopters ready to go in about 20 minutes.
The squadrons maneuvered the refuel without complications.
Its one of the more skill-intensive portions of what we do. These machines are designed for much lower altitudes Bryson, 33, said in the release. Its difficult when you take them (the helicopters) to the edge of the operational envelope. The controls become very loose.
The squadron continued to fly over the mountain range and soon realized there was heavy machine gun fire coming from the mountains to the east.
Bryson led a couple of low passes over the area to determine the threat level before deciding to take his helicopter in to retrieve the men while the second helicopter provided security.
Bryson faced yet another complication when retrieving the men. Instead of conducting a typical hover landing, he had to land with forward momentum because of the elevation where the men were located, all while watching for threats from the ground.
The pararescue team went in and recovered the two men, and the helicopter was in the air just three minutes later.
It was just another day in the life of a man who wants to serve, said his mom, Heather.
Bryson went to the U.S. Air Force Academy after graduating from Durango High School in 1996, and he decided to sign up for 10 years in the service after graduating.
He is in his eighth year and plans to stay in after his 10 years are up, Heather Bryson said.
He likes what he does, she said. Helping people is what he is all about.
Bryson, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2000, has been overseas for almost two years. He is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and alternates between there and Afghanistan, spending six months in Okinawa and four in Afghanistan.
Heather Bryson was on vacation and had just learned about the mission when she returned to Durango late on the night of Oct. 4.
It was kind of like Oh my gosh. Im so happy that they were able to get those men out of there, she said. Its pretty hairy what they did, but they got the job done. Thats what theyre trained to do.