Books by Jack Brehm

Released: Feb. 1, 2000

A provocative examination of the Pararescue Jumpers, a little-known Air Force/Air National Guard unit that performs both military and civilian rescues, lavishly detailed here. Brehm, a —PJ— for 20 years, wisely allowed magazine writer Nelson to frame his life story in the context of recent PJ history in a distanced third-person mode. The genre's signature workmanlike prose style clarifies the weathered humanity of Brehm and his fellow PJs, and their rueful altruism in their hazardous work. The authors lead us through the American military's delayed development of viable parachute units up to the Vietnam era, when the PJs established a benchmark by rescuing a large number of downed flyers behind enemy lines (as not long ago in Kosovo). Brehm's experience—he joined in the mid-1970s as a skinny kid with a huge Afro—is presented as typical of the harrowing training regimen, which —washes out— nearly 90 percent of PJ applicants and essentially combines the separate specialty schools of the Green Berets, SEALs, and other elite units. The authors also go into technical detail in depicting the PJs— arcane equipment and tactics. The welter of information is anchored by gripping depictions of rescue at sea, in major storms, and on Mount McKinley (including incidents in which PJs are lost in action)'seemingly tailor-made for The Perfect Storm's demographic. Yet beneath such gung-ho antics lurk disquieting social questions and echoes of class inequity, as in the PJs— shamefully low salaries and their high loss rate. Similarly, Brehm and Nelson provide a rare portrait of Long Island as something other than a playground for the suburbanized rich, affectingly emphasizing the blue-collar and nautical communities, like Brehm's large family and his L.I.—based unit, which have underwritten the region's history. A macho page-turner with resonance and heart that rescues a cadre of rough everyday heroes from undeserved obscurity. (Author tour) Read full book review >