Retired Air Force Master Sgt. and Pararescueman Scott Fales received U.S. Special Operations Command’s highest honor when he was awarded the 2012 Bull Simons Award in Tampa, Fla., May 23. This lifetime achievement award, named for Army Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons, honors the spirit, values, and skills of the unconventional warrior.
His extensive career in Special Operations has spanned more than three decades both in uniform and as a civil servant. As a “PJ,” Fales was recognized by the Jolly Green’s Association performing “Rescue of the Year” twice and in 1992 he was one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airman. His combat experiences were on the battle fields of Panama, Iraq and Somalia. His work as a civilian with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency has been instrumental in the rescue of hostages around the world.
Fales was born in Hagarstown, Md., and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of western Maryland. Living an adventurous childhood, Fales would spend entire summers living completely outside.
“We used to call living outside ‘running the ridges’ and it was great fun,” Fales said. “Quite frankly there was not a ton of opportunity for a young fella at that time in his life who is not going to college so I enlisted in the Air Force and became a Security Policeman.”
Enlisting in March 1977, Fales served three years as a Security Policeman. One day he noticed some men running across a ramp on a flightline at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
“I saw these guys running and I said, ‘What do you guys do for a living?’ They said, ‘We dive and climb and jump out of airplanes and rescue people all over the world and we get paid for it.’ I said, ‘Well that’s for me.’”
Fales would become a Pararescuman in October 1980 and spend the next decade being assigned at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Arizona; Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland; and Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
In 1982 he received the Jolly Green Association “Rescue of the Year Award” for the rescue of eight victims of an aircraft crash high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While in Iceland, he led over 40 rescue missions in the Icelandic mountains, glaciers and the frigid North Atlantic, saving 56 lives and earned the 1986 Jolly Green Association “Mission of the Year.”
In December 1989, Fales would get his first combat experience when he was part of the first wave of assault aircraft in Operation Just Cause, where he made a night combat parachute jump to seize Torios-Tacuman International Airport in Panama.
“His role was to get the airfield up and running, be prepared to treat and evacuate the wounded, and be on call for the next mission,” said retired Col. Craig Brotchie, former 720th Special Tactics Group commander. “It was the wet season, we were concerned about ground fog, coming in there at night with C-141 aircraft, so we were concerned about getting a navigation aid in on the ground to assist the airplanes. If we don’t have a successful airdrop at Torios-Tacuman then we are operating from a secondary position.”
Fales whose first job was to set up a navigational aid described they had practiced extensively for the mission, but there is always a fear of uncertainty and combat situations are often fluid.
“I was jumping with a jump clearing team, which is team of guys who are out first over the airfield and our job is to make sure the airfield is open,” said Fales. “I remember inside the airplane they came back from the cockpit and yelled ‘Hey, they know you are coming. We intercepted a phone call and they know what time you will be there.’ Everybody is thinking ‘Great, good news for us.’ We figured it would be a little rougher than we anticipated.”
Echoing the fear of uncertainty jumping into Panama retired Chief Master Sgt. Les Wolfe, a fellow PJ, described the combat night jump.
“As you can imagine, a lot of the things the warriors were faced with in Panama, as with any conflict, couldn’t be anticipated. You know if you step out of an airplane you are going to fall to the ground, but you didn’t know when you were under canopy they were going to pick you off while you were descending,” said Wolfe. “That wasn’t really anticipated, but that is exactly what took place. Consequently, a lot of the war-related injuries took place before the Soldier even hit the ground.”
Fales and the American forces would ultimately be successful and depose Dictator Manuel Noriega.
In April 1990 Fales was selected for duty at the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, where he rose to non-commissioned office in charge of an operational Special Tactics team. While there he fought in Operation Desert Storm where he conducted classified recovery missions in western Iraq.
In August of 1993 Fales was assigned to Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. On the fateful day of Oct. 3, he led the search and rescue of “Super 6-1” a Black Hawk helicopter shot down by a rocket propelled grenade. Fales and fellow PJ, Tech. Sgt. Timothy Wilkinson, who would earn the Air Force Cross for actions at Mogadishu, were flying in “Super 6-8” toward the crash site.
“Normally when you assess a crash site one of our tactics is to turn hard over the top of the site and look down on top of it to see exactly what you have and then come back and set up on an approach and either land or fast rope to the crash,” Fales said. “In this particular case, (Super 6-1) brownout was very bad, the enemy situation was very bad, enemy fire was very high, to include lots of RPGs being fired at the helicopter in the sky, so it was made clear we were only going to have one attempt. So we basically flew straight to the relative vicinity of the crash site.”
“At one point, I distinctly recall looking at Scott as we sat opposite of each other in the cabin and as we were moving and gyrating getting ready to come in with the flare and posture we just looked at each other, made eye contact and nodded, ‘ok here we go,’” Wilkinson said.
“We fast roped into the street. During that fast rope it raised a tremendous amount of dust and you couldn’t see anything. As we collected at the crash the enemy zeroed in on our location and steady rifle fire increased and while all of that was happening I was hit in the leg,” said Fales.
Retired Col. Ken Rodriguez, Fales’ former commander, described his tenacity that day and his refusal to stop fighting even after being wounded.
“Some things that strike me about his actions on the third and fourth of October, them going into the fray the way they did, going down the ropes, firefight ensuing, the helicopter they are fast roping from gets hit by an RPG while they are on the ropes and all hell is breaking loose,” Rodriguez said. “After he gets wounded, he continues to care for the wounded and returned deadly accurate fire, and at one point, finally has to give himself an IV to keep from going into shock. Just amazing.”
For his actions that day Fales received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. Lessons he learned that day would provide the foundation for future combat search and rescue (CSAR) training to both active duty SOF and the Joint Service Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Agency.
“I can tell we had not done an engagement like that, at that time in 1993, since Vietnam,” said Fales. “We had not done any urban CSAR, a real close-quarter urban CSAR, a downed helicopter being swarmed by enemy personnel. It was a tremendous amount of lessons learned and it drove training programs for us for a long time.”
Retiring from the active duty Air Force in April of 1997 Fales joined the Joint Service SERE Agency as a personnel recovery operations officer. While there, he instructed personnel recovery courses, developed specialized training for sensitive SOF and reconnaissance operators, and assisted the Department of State to develop recovery capabilities in support of counter-drug operations in Central and South America. In 1999 the Joint Services SERE Agency and the Joint Combat Search and Rescue Agency merged and became the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and is headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va.
The ingenuity and tenacity Fales had as a PJ was quickly recognized by his colleagues at JPRA.
“Scottie told me a project I was working on would go forward and asked me to write up the requirements for the government acceptance tests. The one thing I didn’t have was an RJ, (Rivet Joint aircraft) a very specific aircraft,” said Brian Healy, JPRA colleague. “It was no more than seven days later I was out in New Mexico and as I was working with this technology, 30,000 feet above me, was an RJ flying overhead. That was a direct result of Scottie. I don’t know how he did it. That was the one big, big hurdle we needed for this test. I still don’t know to this day how he did it.”
In April 2006, Fales returned to the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., serving as the JPRA Command Representative to JSOC, providing personnel recovery, technical surveillance, advice, expertise and assistance to the commander of JSOC. Today, Fales is the Director of Personnel Recovery for the 724th Special Tactics Group.
Fales’ more than 30 years in Special Operations, significant contributions on the battlefield and his dogged commitment to American CSAR training is why he was selected as the 2012 Bull Simons recipient. Reflecting on his memories and experiences Fales describes the essence of SOF nostalgically.
“There are times that sort of sink into your memory and you never forget them,” he said. “A row of little birds all lined up in perfect alignment and synchronization. One of those nights absolutely pitch dark, but some lights way off in the distance, you never forget the smells, the sounds, the temperature, and what we were there doing and through the fog you think about the awesome power of the United States…And that is SOF…That’s what SOF guys do.”