Never Quit: From Alaskan Wilderness Rescues to Afghanistan Firefights as an Elite Special Ops PJ

Never Quit: From Alaskan Wilderness Rescues to Afghanistan Firefights as an Elite Special Ops PJ

by Jimmy Settle, Don Rearden

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“That Others May Live” is a mantra that defines the fearless men of Alaska’s 212th Pararescue Unit, the PJs, one of the most elite military forces on the planet. Whether they are rescuing citizens injured and freezing in the Alaskan wilderness or saving wounded Rangers and SEALS in blazing firefights at war, the PJs are the least known and most highly trained of America’s warriors.

Never Quit is the true story of how Jimmy Settle, an Alaskan shoe store clerk, became a Special Forces Operator and war hero. After being shot in the head during a dangerous high mountain operation in the rugged Watapur Valley in Afghanistan, Jimmy returns to battle with his teammates for a heroic rescue, the bullet fragments stitched over and still in his skull. In a cross between a suicide rescue mission and an against-all-odds mountain battle, his team of PJs risk their lives again in an epic firefight. When his helicopter is hit and begins leaking fuel, Jimmy finds himself in the worst possible position as a rescue specialist—forced to leave members from his own team behind. Jimmy will have to risk everything to get back into the battle and bring back his brothers.

From death-defying Alaskan wilderness training, wild rescues, and vicious battles against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, this is an explosive special operations memoir unlike any that has come before, and the true story of a man from humble beginnings who became an American hero.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250103000
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 22,888
File size: 41 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

JIMMY SETTLE is an accomplished Pararescue Specialist in the Air Force, now retired. He was awarded a Purple Heart and an Airman’s Medal and with commendations for Valor in Afghanistan. He is credited for saving 38 lives, and assisting in 28 others in combat, and others in the Alaskan wilderness. He lives outside of Seattle.

DON REARDEN is a professor, a produced screenwriter, and the author of The Washington Post Notable novel,The Raven’s Gift. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

JIMMY SETTLE was born and raised in Alaska. His love of outdoor adventures and a strong desire to help people drew him to the most extreme rescue specialists in the world, the United States Air Force Pararescue, or PJ’s for short. Wounded in battle, Jim retired from his position as a PJ. He lives outside of Seattle with his wife and son. H

Jim was awarded an Airman’s Medal and Purple Heart with commendations for Valor in Operation Bulldog Bite in Afghanistan, logging 277 hours of Combat Search and Rescue. He is credited for saving 38 lives, and assisting in 28 others in combat, with additional saves and assists in the Alaskan wilderness.

He is the author of Never Quit.

DON REARDEN grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska. An associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, he is a produced screenwriter, a Rasmuson Foundation Project Fellow, and author of The Washington Post Notable novel from Penguin, The Raven’s Gift. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Read an Excerpt

Never Quit

From Alaskan Wilderness Rescues to Afghanistan Firefights as an Elite Special OPS PJ

By Jimmy Settle, Don Rearden

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 James Charles Settle and Donald Joseph Rearden
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10299-7


It's Going to Be You, Jimmy

Roger and the boys greeted us planeside as we disembarked from the C-17 into the dusty world of Bagram Air Base, thirty miles north of the Afghanistan city of Kabul. A taut angular mountain of a man, at six foot eight, Roger stood out far above the rest of the team. We collected our gear and traded a barrage of loving insults. We were all far from home and in the middle of a war zone.

My good friend Chris Robertson came over to me and gave me a giant bear hug, saying, "Welcome to Afghanistan, Jimmy!" Chris, Roger, and the other PJs stood waiting for us outside the chain-link fence, just off the tarmac where we disembarked from the jet that had delivered us from Germany.

Chris and the other PJs had finished their deployment, and most would be back home in Alaska, eating a Moose's Tooth pizza and sipping on a cold Pipeline Stout, before I'd even adjusted to the altitude and time zone of Bagram.

That fall, our unit had been split for deployment. We'd left our home base in Anchorage to participate in a joint military mission in the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan. My PJ team phased in over many weeks, and I was in the second phase of guys. Two more groups would follow. The team members who went before us had put our gear together at the Bagram PJ section and worked out all the kinks to get us fully operational. My teammates and I were replacing Chris's crew for our own stint. They all were returning healthy, happy, and with mustaches. They had seen some action, but none of our PJs were injured or killed. The mission up until that point had been fairly routine: save the lives of soldiers and special operators requiring assistance in the rugged Afghanistan mountains.

It would be a few months of deployment, then we would return to saving civilian lives in the Alaskan wilderness.

I felt encouraged when I saw how great the brothers who had been deployed looked. They had been operating on the front lines for several months at this point, and these guys were salty. We were the fresh meat. The warm welcome felt like the opening moments of old friends gathering before a bachelor party. Once we got through the reception center, our buddies grabbed all our gear and loaded it on the team bus. We were off to get our on-base driver's licenses and secure area passes. The basic IDs they handed us were straight from the 1980s, with a photo and paper laminated together. We would need this to drive vehicles and to get into the area of the base where our special section was located.

We were joking and making faces for our license photos. Chris asked how the trip from Alaska had been.

"Tell them about last night," one of the guys said, elbowing me.

"He's great in bed," I joked, getting a quick slug for my always smart-ass responses.

"I am!" he said. "Last night in Germany."

They leaned in, men who had been at war, away from their wives and girlfriends, suspecting a story of debauchery.

I began rattling off the tale. That was one of my jobs in the unit — unofficial entertainment — and practically my rank. Senior Airman Jimmy Settle of the Alaska 212th, storyteller, joker, and prankster. The way I saw it, the team that laughed together, stayed together.

I relayed the story of our overnight delay in Frankfurt.

We had hopped a taxi, rumbled down the cobblestone roads, and stopped at the pub closest to base. Inside, we just happened to bump into one of my buddies from another PJ team. He also was transitioning over to a unit, in southern Afghanistan. Since we just happened to run into each other, this was more than reason to celebrate the one night of reprieve before heading downrange.

I'm enjoying the good German beer, the big timber construction of the establishment, and appreciating the different look and smell from Alaska. We're doing our thing, pounding beers and telling stories, when we meet a few fellow American service members, and after a few more drinks, I hear this one cat sitting next us trying to pick up a girl.

He said, "I'm an air force SERE specialist."

PJ and SERE career fields tend to be interwoven. In the spirit of a good-natured ambassadorship, I tapped him on the shoulder. "Did you say you are in the air force? Did you say 'spear specialist'? Is that what you air force guys call missiles? Spears? The air force is so weird."

He leaned into me. Clearly not picking up on my sarcasm, and said, "A SERE is spelled Capital S. Capital E. Capital R. Capital E. And that stands for 'survival, evasion, resistance, and escape,' officer."

So this guy was calling himself one of the elite trainers, a man with the knowledge of some incredibly complex and highly classified tactics. SERE specialists are adept at interrogation and information gathering, and as such they don't go around offering up so much as the time of day, let alone their particular career field. But this clown? He didn't look or act the part. We had all been around our share of actual SERE specialists. They, like most operators, don't feel the need to advertise their presence.

I felt compelled to call his bluff.

"You're no SERE specialist," I replied, and added, "only special."

And his response? "Well fine," he said. "Let's do this."

I nodded and pushed back from the bar. "Well then," I said, "why don't we do this SERE style?"

By that, I meant slap boxing, like they do in interrogation resistance training. This is a stressor technique that employs an open-palm slap to the face, with the hand starting on the shoulder.

We took turns, one at a time, faster and faster. Slap. Slap. Slap.

I'm laughing the whole time, which only pissed him off more, and the next thing I know we're all being thrown out.

The slapping continued on the cobblestones. I'm still laughing, and going to town on this pretend specialist. Pow! Pow! Pow! Until my PJ friend from the other unit steps between us. "Dude, you gotta stop," he said. "You can't do this."

He was right. "Don't ever pretend to be someone you're not, dude," I said to the guy, and held my hand out. He considered it for a moment and we shook.

We staggered off down the road, hailing a cab for the ride back to base.

* * *

Back at Bagram, I finished my story and took a few jabs from the guys about how I was lucky I wasn't still in Germany, sitting in the brig. I nodded. It had been silly, even if it was just harmless slap boxing and not actual fighting.

In truth, the flight over had been uneventful. What was memorable on the round-the-world voyage from Anchorage to Afghanistan had been mostly internal. War was a new experience for me. After years of training, I'd finally become a PJ. I was new to the career field. I'd never been deployed. I'd never been on an overseas base. I'd never seen battle. From the moment we met at the section in Anchorage and loaded all our gear onto a flatbed truck with picket sides, I felt I was embarking on a life-changing journey. I could already feel a change in the way I felt about myself, my team, and my family, and toward life.

There were ten of us traveling together. We took up the whole bed of a big old double-deuce two-ton. We wore khaki-tan flight suits. Mine fit like a condom one size too small. We drove across Anchorage, toward the civilian airport on the other side of town. At the Alaska Airlines counter, we checked our gear bags and carried our rifles to the security point. Our weapons were locked in heavy-duty black cases. We traveled with our own weapons because we had time on them. We knew how they worked. Each PJ has his choice weapon tuned in to specific personal preferences.

I have traveled through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport my entire life, but this time I strolled through the concourse with the guys from my unit. In uniform, with a rifle in my case, the experience felt a bit surreal. I was seeing a whole different side of my relatively new career as a PJ.

We traveled cross-country in civilian aircraft. Anchorage to Baltimore, and then over to Europe on a military jet. Before Germany, all I had on was the skintight tan flight suit, and that damn thing wasn't comfortable. The uniform made me feel fat and claustrophobic. None of us wore our regular green PJ suits, which fit us perfectly. Instead, they supplied us a general issue, horrible-fitting thing.

The flight from Germany to Bagram reminded me of a cattle car. We couldn't have been packed any tighter into the C-17. The flight was uneventful, until we began our final approach into Bagram. The jet began the approach and headed right toward Bagram. The timer in my head starts to tick down with the realization that I'm not merely on a long, painful flight. I'm actually about to step foot in a place where violence thrives and real danger is the norm.

Just as we descended for our landing — with the gears dropping out and the flaps adjusted with a familiar, high-pitched hum, the airplane coming down, settling in, sinking — the engines revved, just a little bit, and then I heard a series of small explosions. Pop! Pop! Pop!

With my experience in aircraft, I recognized the sound. It was a sequence of flares, shot out of the back of the jet, countermeasures against missiles and RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades. Right away I'm reminded that not only is this aircraft prepared to deter a ground-to-air enemy attack but also those deterrents had actually just deployed. I was flying into a place where a very real enemy would be shooting at me.

Odds are, a large cooking fire or burning trash from a village home beneath the approach path ignited the countermeasures. The flares don't know any better. But whatever set off those mini explosions seconds before landing served as a great final wake-up for me: Oh-hey! This isn't summer camp, Jimmy!

One of the other first things I noticed, as Roger, Chris, and my teammates greeted us, was that everything about this place was arid. This part of the world was dry, and super dusty. I could feel the air suck the moisture from my skin, my hair, my mouth, and my clothes. My lips were instantly chapped. I had to fight the urge to lick them. Then there was the thirst. The thirst was immediate and unquenchable.

Roger Sparks, Chris Robertson, Aaron Parcha, Koa Bailey, Jonny Davis, Paul "Bear" Barendregt, and a couple other guys gave us a nice five-star tour of the base and took care of all the military hoop jumping that happens when you first begin a deployment. None of us were particularly fond of that crap. PJs succeed because of a flexible mind-set, which can typically be too restricted when held to the confines of a regimented, by-the-books type of military leadership. PJs operate best when we're left to our own skills and our own judgment calls. So, with our friends showing up and rescuing us from the reception center line, we got to skip out on all the garbage, all the official tours and boring, dry-as-Afghanistan-air instruction and information. Our team told us the important stuff — talk to this guy if you need this, and go here for that. Their tour made the apprehension of coming into the combat zone much easier to bear, almost making that war zone anxiety nonexistent.

Seeing our friends again and listening to their stories put me at ease. They had been having a good time, and there wasn't anything to really be alarmed about. They were doing all sorts of cool missions and got into a couple close scrapes, with some really neat high-profile rescue stuff, but nothing where they were dancing with death on a high frequency. Knowing this gave me some space to breathe.

During the first few hours on base, I felt inundated with people, vehicles, and military aircraft. The base seemed overly crowded and ridiculously dusty. One of the guys explained that the Russians originally built and operated out of Bagram. This base was one of the first places our Special Forces deployed after 9/11. As we cruised around, I could see the different layers and ages, how the place was built and where the base expanded, like rings in a tree, war upon war. Bagram was in an unorthodox place, surrounded by steep mountains and, by my estimate, not at all that secure, but it was to be my new home and I needed to get comfortable.

We bounced down a road that circled the perimeter of the base. All sorts of up-armored vehicles, buses, and small trucks kicked up more dust. Right away I inquired about the crazily decorated trucks and learned that these were what the locals called jingle trucks. Jingle trucks are beautifully decorated, like nothing I had ever seen in America. Imagine a dump truck painted like the Sistine Chapel and you're not even close to what a jingle truck looks like.

Finally, after doing the tour, meeting people, getting some lunch, and finishing the last of our paperwork, we got to go to our section. The not-so-subtle code word for our little headquarters: the PJ section. We like simple.

Chris and the other guys helped us hump our gear and our weapons into the nondescript metal structure. An average soldier on deployment would have a standard issue duffle, but like other special operations teams, the standards aren't always enough for PJs. I carried a half dozen duffle bags full of my own specialized gear. Parachutes, diving equipment, medical equipment, climbing gear. You name it, I had it stuffed in a sack somewhere.

The PJ section was a basic two-story metal building built on a concrete pad. The walls were thin. They sheltered us from the elements but provided no protection from the constant roar of afterburners screaming down the runway. The atmosphere of the section was rowdy, which is often the ambience PJs cultivate. The place bore the weight of a history of the war. Each PJ unit that rotated in and out had been there, so it was like sharing a locker room with a bunch of family. It came with materials handed down from team to team; each crew left their own personality behind, their own little artifacts that gave the space flavor. Without this history, the building would have had that cold military feeling to it, but the previous teams had created a home away from home with all the hilarious and raunchy stuff they plastered to the walls, the goofy items they left, and the traditions they started.

This was what I had devoted the past few years of my life to, and I was there. Boom. The transition seemed so fast it was kind of scary. I didn't know what I didn't know. I was green. I was the FNG, the fucking new guy. I'd been playing with my gear for months. Putting pouches here and there and playing with my weapon and my med-ruck, and I still didn't feel like any of it was in the right spot. Everything seemed awkward. Once I hit Bagram and started using my gear for real and not for training, a few degrees of perceptible change began. At first I felt sloppy, rickety, and scared. I was the new guy in all those war movies. Scared out of my mind. Like I'm going to get shot any time or blown up, scared I would have to get into a firefight. I had no shortage of anxiety, but having my friends there at Bagram helped ease that transition, for sure, and drew the focus away from the oneness of self and toward the collectivism of the team. The team is the key to survival. Teamwork is paramount to success as a pararescueman. This notion is ingrained so deep that each team has a team room. At Bagram, ours was called the Opium Den.

The Opium Den served as our main muster point for the duration of our stay. I didn't question why it was called the Opium Den. In a strange way, the name made sense. Of course PJs would be housed in a place with such a nonmilitary name. Perhaps it was because we were field paramedics, packing a fair share of opiates for the wounded — or, for the outside perspective, a man would have to be smoking something in order to do what we did for training alone. Whatever the case, we had our own little shack to set up shop.

I stowed my gear in the locker, across from Roger, and joined my team for our orientation and debriefing, which included what to do if our area came under enemy attack, where to take a shower, and most importantly, where to "get huge" (our workout area).

We stood around a big makeshift table, created by rolling together two big cabinets with thick wood tops. Exhausted from the jet lag, I found myself half-listening to the explanations of our new day-to-day operations and the facilities, until the commander pointed out that the base could come under mortar attack at any moment. I snapped to attention. I wasn't in Alaska anymore, and this was war.

Our alert status began right away. We were on standby for any emergency evacuations in the northeastern region of the combat theater, including the nearby mountains, which was why we were there. After the debrief, I stepped out into the blinding Afghan sun and surveyed the surrounding area. Mountains rose up all around, giving the place a familiar feeling. The high peaks reminded me of the mountains buttressing my home city of Anchorage. The comparison stopped with the rugged terrain. These mountains were dry and barren, strikingly less like the mountains of my beloved home and more like the mountains of New Mexico, a place I'd spent a good deal of time training to become a PJ. Vegetation was sparse and trees rare. I grew up playing in mountains covered in green and white. The land in Afghanistan, for as far as I could see, was tan, brown, and upon my initial inspection, it looked almost devoid of life.


Excerpted from Never Quit by Jimmy Settle, Don Rearden. Copyright © 2017 James Charles Settle and Donald Joseph Rearden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: Water Work 1

1 It's Going to Be You, Jimmy 10

2 Son of a Survivor 23

3 Alive Day 32

4 Shoe Guy 34

5 The PAST 61

6 Basic Contraband 82

7 Keep Your Chin Up 91

8 Major Adrian 111

9 Operation Green Feet 120

10 Eating Ants 137

11 Strike Two 159

12 Yo-Yo and the Shark 171

13 Free Fall 182

14 Emergency Medicine 195

15 Dirt Medicine 215

16 Alaska PJ No. 72 238

17 Saving Barbie 252

18 The Same Soaking 257

19 A Bulldog's Bite 263

20 Blessing and Apology 277

21 Beans, Bandages, Bullets 284

22 Into Hell 289

23 War Is the Realm of Uncertainty 298

Epilogue; Never Quit 302

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Never Quit: From Alaskan Wilderness Rescues to Afghanistan Firefights as an Elite Special Ops PJ 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous 5 days ago
story keeps moving. took a long time to get to the war, but it took a long time of training and qualifying. I had no idea.
Anonymous 27 days ago
makes you feel as if you are there with him
Anonymous 3 months ago
Informative & Interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. A great reminder to never give up on your dreams and go after what you want. Very thankful for men like this that serve our country.