From rescuing civilians from a sinking ship off the coast of Alaska or flying into a hail of gunfire to save a wounded soldier, U.S. Air Force Special Warfare Pararescue Specialists (PJs) are some of the best in the world at search and rescue.

There aren’t many active-duty Pararescue Specialists out there (they number in the hundreds), so we found a few PJ veterans to see what books they would recommend about the things their brothers-in-arms did, that others may live.

“We will purposely insert ourselves into the worst possible scenario, knowing it might mean the death of our team. That’s what Pararescue is there to do. That’s what ‘That others may live’ means,” said retired PJ Aaron Love. “No matter what, if you call us — even if it kills us — we are going to bring you home. We are going to complete our mission.”

Love recently retired after a 22-year-long career as a Pararescue specialist. He knows what it takes to earn the coveted maroon beret of the PJ but also what it takes to keep it.

“Sometimes [young 18 to 21-year-olds] need to read about what these giants have done to really understand the gravity of what they’re being asked to do,” Love said.

‘Alone at Dawn’ by Dan Schilling

“Alone at Dawn” is Love’s top recommendation because it shows how the entire Air Force Special Warfare community works together to accomplish its mission. Dan Schilling, a retired Special Tactics Officer, leaned on his experience and connections to detail the harrowing 17-hour-long battle on top of Takur Ghar in 2002 in which seven Americans were killed in action, and two (one posthumously) were awarded the Medal of Honor. 

“That’s the book that I point to when people ask about [Air Force Special Warfare], and they want to be in any one of these career fields: Pararescue, Combat Control, and Special Reconnaissance,” Love said. “The actions that the men took on the ground there define who we are as the three or four beret-wearing tribes that we have.” 

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Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, a Pararescue specialist, was awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously for his actions treating his patients despite the burning fuselage around him and heavy enemy gunfire. Tech. Sgt. John “Chappy” Chapman, a Combat Controller, was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor for his actions charging an enemy bunker, taking it, and continually exposing himself to enemy gunfire in an effort to recover Navy SEAL, Neil Roberts. 

‘The Perfect Storm’ by Sebastian Junger

Matt White, Task & Purpose’s senior editor, served as a PJ for nine years and recommended “The Perfect Storm” as the “OG book” for anyone looking to learn more about the capability of PJs. 

“It’s the first book that I know of that really laid out Pararescue as this elite job that ‘holds its own’ with all the other special ops jobs,” White said. “There’s a big section on the horrors of the indoc course. Then, of course, the mission itself, which is more about the pilots but does focus on who the PJs were.”

This book unpacks the story behind the sinking of the Andrea Gail during a terrible storm. Though PJs are some of the most well-equipped to handle rescues in austere weather, the pararescue specialists were caught in the storm and had to face the tragedy of searching for one of their own lost at sea. 

White noted that “The Perfect Storm” began as a story in Outside Magazine and was published in 1997. Its success helped pave the way for other journalism-based books on special operations, including another classic involving PJs released two years later: “Black Hawk Down.”

‘Never Quit’ by Jimmy Settle

“Never Quit” walks readers through the life of Pararescue Specialist Jimmy Settle. Love went through the PJ pipeline with Settle and was blown away by his tenacity to persevere through the training and injuries he later sustained at war. 

“It’s absolutely astounding the things that Jimmy did. He was an older guy coming in, and he had a crazy story with a bunch of trauma in his backstory,” Love said. “It culminates with him getting shot in the head. But he tells his story, and I gotta be honest with you, man, that is pretty freaking awesome.” 

Love said Settle pushed through working at a running shoe store and living out of his vehicle to become a well-recognized Pararescueman within their community due to his bravery under fire and exceptional ability to do the job. 

‘Warriors Creed’ by Roger Sparks 

Roger Sparks served for 25 years, first in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Recon Marine, then later as an Alaska National Guard Pararescueman. Sparks was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in 2010 during a fierce gunfight in the rugged Watapur Valley in Afghanistan. 

“He was very open and honest about his struggles with mental health. One of the biggest operations that Pararescue has worked was Operation Bulldog Bite, just a terrible scenario,” Love said. “People getting shot off the hoist and then getting completely pinned down on the ground.” 

Love said Sparks unpacks his time in the military in stoic fashion making “Warriors Creed” a valuable resource for those wanting to pursue the maroon beret or those who already have it.  

“The whole purpose of his book was to talk about how hard the job can be, and not just Operation Bulldog Bite, but he speaks about the toll that it takes on the warriors and what he’s done to come back from his dark places. It’s just great.” 

‘None Braver’ by Michael Hirsh

Once upon a time, I joined Air Force ROTC and was training to become a Combat Rescue Officer (the officer version of a PJ). Though I ended up joining the U.S. Army instead, I read many books on Pararescue and am personally recommending Michael Hirsh’s “None Braver” as this was the book that inspired me to serve. The book unpacks countless stories of bravery under fire through the eyes of a Vietnam combat veteran who had embedded with the PJs.  

Love and White both said it’s vital to know about the heroic feats of PJs before trying to earn your way into their ranks. 

“It shortens the time for when you have that aha moment of like, ‘Holy cow, this is real, this is righteous, this is probably the best job that exists in the military, but it could cost me my life,’” Love said. “I have to go into that with eyes wide open, and I think the earlier you give people that information, the better off they’ll be. It’s why we have the podcast. I want people to be able to lean into this mission set 100% as early as possible, hopefully before they get in.”

Update: 4/18/2024; Additional context was added shortly after publishing.

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