'We’re the last to let you down’: Rigger trades active-duty career for Guardian Angel mission

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packs a parachute at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packs a parachute at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packs a parachute at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packs a parachute at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packages a jet ski to be air dropped at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro packages a jet ski to be air dropped at the 306th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 14. He's an Air Force Reserve aircrew flight equipment specialist for the Guardian Angel squadron here, which is part of the 943rd Rescue Group. Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago after six years of active duty service to expand his breadth of experience and be part of the unique combat-search-and-rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Carolyn Herrick)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

Before a pararescueman jumps out the back of a cargo plane, the last thing on his mind should be whether or not his parachute will deploy. He shouldn’t wonder, before he jumps into a black abyss of water, if the jet ski package will be intact after its descent. His focus should be on saving a life.

In order to focus on a search and rescue mission, he has to have confidence in the Aircrew Flight Equipment specialists who pack and maintain his gear.

“We’re the last to let you down” is the motto of Air Force AFE, and for Tech. Sgt. Isaac Shapiro trading his active-duty career for Reserve job in the 306th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel unit here was a chance to not only branch out professionally, but also be part of a mission that’s like no other.

Guardian Angel is comprised of combat rescue officers; pararescuemen; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) specialists, and uniquely-trained support personnel dedicated to the Air Force core function of personnel recovery.

 “This is a niche part of AFE that’s extremely enjoyable because we get to go outside the shop to the drop zone, work on boats, and go in the field to support the PJs,” said Shapiro, who is training to be a boat master. “Normally, AFE is divided by airframe. You would go to a squadron and learn that airframe – be it heavies, fighters, or helos. Here, we are closely connected to the Reserve rescue mission. We are not on the front lines, but we are doing a lot to get them out the door and on the bird. It’s way beyond just rigging.”

In addition to the diversity of work he gets to do, from building quads to packaging larger equipment to airdrop, Shapiro enjoys working for a team that has his best interest in mind.

“I feel like I’m doing something to help the Air Force overall, but I am also able to achieve my individual goals,” he said. “I came in as a traditional Reservist and worked as much as I could, and because of that I was able to land an Air Reserve Technician job.”

An ART carries dual status, working as a full-time Department of Defense civil service employee and as Reservist performing the same job in an Air Force Reserve Command unit. This kind of career progression, combined with the specialized mission and a tight-knit community here, are all reasons Shapiro transitioned to the Reserve six years ago, after six years of active duty.

“Without us, the rescue mission would be at a standstill,” said Master Sgt. Pat Roberts, the 306th RQS AFE superintendent. “The [Guardian Angels] can’t do night missions without NVGs [or] jump without parachutes and the oxygen we provide at high altitude.”

And behind every one of those tasks is Shapiro, who is now on active orders and was deployed with the 306th Rescue Squadron to the Horn of Africa this spring. There, the team operated in an area spanning almost two million square miles. Terrain varied from 19,000-foot mountains to vast, unpopulated desert; thick jungle; large cities; and open ocean. Because of the dedicated support of AFE, the team saved six lives, flew more than 500 combat hours, conducted 67 parachute deployments, and provided more than 2,600 hours of dedicated alert coverage.

“It’s not easy to deploy to such a demanding arena,” said Roberts, “but he ran the deployment flawlessly.”