Meet Charlie - RAF Lakenheath’s unlikely hero
- Credit: YouTube
At a US Air Force base in Lakenheath, an unlikely legend has emerged.
The base belongs to a squadron of pararescuemen, trained in conducting rescue operations. They are better known as PJs (para jumpers) because they deploy in any available method, meaning parachute landings are part of a typical day's work.
But their airborne tendencies are not the only unusual thing about this squadron as they have also adopted a curious mascot. Meet Charlie, a wooden bust who has become an honorary Air Force member.
Charlie originated in the South Pacific Islands where he was found by a team from Eglin Air Force and taken back to Florida, USA. Here, he became an esteemed member at the PJ base, and was quickly involved in their pararescue courses. He has completed dive school, where he earned his scuba tanks, and jump school, for which he parachuted out of a plane, all in order to earn his beret.
He made his way to Lakenheath as a result of a playful PJ tradition. To earn respect, units steal Charlie from one another. A number of teammates from the Lakenheath base saw their opportunity at this year's pararescue rodeo. They knew Charlie would be at the event and carefully planned the theft.
A member of the team commented: 'When he did make an appearance it happened very quickly. We saw Charlie, we saw an opportunity, we took him. We got on a plane back to England and got him here as soon as we could.'
Charlie is important to the team as he reminds them of the losses they've sustained along the way. One PJ commented: 'Charlie has been around since before we lost most of them. So, you know, all the way through Vietnam, all of Iraq, all of Afghanistan. It's a constant reminder to a lot of us that we've sacrificed a lot.'
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There are rules to stealing Charlie, though. Only current, qualified pararescuemen or retirees can do it. The manner in which he's stolen is also regulated. It has to reflect the PJs' methods, meaning there is usually 'some kind of high angle rope scenario, extrication devices, parachuting.' This is no smash-and-grab operation.
The PJs are in agreement: 'Charlie represents every man that has worn the beret. He's a tangible way that we can touch and feel the history of pararescue.'