KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- Along the halls of the Pararescue and Combat Rescue Officer School here, reminders of heroes past adorn the walls with honor.
There have been 13 Air Force Crosses and one Medal of Honor awarded to former students. They serve as testimony to the valor demonstrated by a fresh crop of students receiving their first hands-on training at the five-month pararescue recovery specialist course.
Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez is the director of pararescue apprentice training at the school. He has prepared 50 operators for the career field, 40 of which have already experienced combat.
Sergeant Colon-Lopez is a seasoned combat veteran, having seen action during four deployments in support of the war on terrorism. He puts in perspective what an operator in combat faces by drawing parallels to the hectic tempo of an emergency room, where medical professionals have the best equipment and lighting. However, pararescuemen on the ground usually operate under conditions far more bleak.
"Picture the scenario and injury with someone lying in the dirt and extremists or insurgents shooting at you," Sergeant Colon-Lopez said. "There are only two of you with two backpacks containing limited equipment, but you still have to try to make things happen the same way it is done in an emergency room."
Sergeant Colon-Lopez said his job is to give the students the tools they need to thrive in difficult missions.
"The scope of training we give here prepares them for extreme situations, and we teach them ways to make things happen in bad situations," he said.
Keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box is something Sergeant Colon-Lopez imparts to his students as the key to being great pararescuemen.
"If every mission was black-and-white, our job would be very easy. A rescue is a mission of opportunity, an opportunity to save someone's life," he said.
Training the next generation of operators and grooming the newest additions to his brotherhood is something in which the sergeant takes great pride. He said the newest operators have to be ready to excel as soon as they leave the training.
"Whether you are a new Airman or a seasoned operator who has gone to war, we all have the same mentality, and that is to save lives," he said. "We are willing to put our lives on the line to make this happen."
The five-month course is the culmination of nearly two years of training for some students. The training includes field tactics, mountaineering, combat tactics, advanced parachuting and helicopter insertion and extraction.
Sergeant Colon-Lopez's office serves as a shrine to his career field. Pictures and other mementos collected throughout his career leave no space exposed on his walls. Near his desk is a place of honor reserved for pictures of his brothers he will never be able to talk to again.
"The things I will never forget are my comrades, especially the guys who died in the line of duty," he said. "The tenacity, valor and compassion a pararescueman has will always stay with me."