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(March 20-25, 2007)

Dan Taylor

Mexico City

Pat Swovelin †

It Made the Flags Fly...

Skydive DeLand, Florida, USA

March 23, 2007, 1:16 PM (6:16 GMT)

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© 2007 Pat Swovelin, All Rights Reserved.

Atmosphere is a curious thing. You can't see it but you can see its effects. Observe how it makes the flags stand out. Normally you can't feel it but if it's cold or warm or moving you're suddenly aware of it. We breathe it every time we inhale. We are bathed in its lifegiving oxygen from the moment we're born until the day we die. Planes fly in it. People skydive through it. My friend died in it.

Bob Holler was a retired Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force PJs (Pararescue Jumpers). PJs are highly trained CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) medics trained to save lives, and fight if necessary, in 6 different environments from pole to pole (desert, jungle, mountain, water, urban and arctic). When a pilot is getting ready to eject the PJs are who he calls because they're the people who will fetch him from behind enemy lines, 24/7, anywhere on the planet and will stop at nothing to bring him back alive. The whole idea is to get in and get out, unseen and unscathed and Bob excelled at that. Their creed “That others may live.” means exactly that. They put the lives of others above their own when trying to extract someone from behind enemy lines or to save someone's life. They don't just work at saving military lives, PJs were instrumental in the recovery efforts in and around New Orleans after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. They are deployed to both the Florida coast and 2 sites off of Spain and France every time the Space Shuttle is launched, to be ready for an emergency water landing. They operate in places we've never heard of and will never see. Their stories are legend. They are on the very tip of the spear in America's first line of defense against those who wish to do us harm.

After a 30-year and 12-day career as an Air Force PJ (Bob is credited with over 500 lives saved) he retired to the drop zone at DeLand, Florida, to finally get to play in the Sun. During this past year he joined a group (The BentProp Project) that goes to Palau (in the western Pacific Ocean) annually to search for and hopefully locate missing aircrew from the air battles over Palau during World War II. After exhaustive research they go into the field and are looking for specific crash sites and specific personnel, not just wandering around willy nilly in the jungle. When, and if, they're successful (it took 8 years to find a particular B-24) the position is recorded with a GPS waypoint and turned over to JPAC (the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) in Hawaii. They in turn do their own investigation and search of the area and if any human remains are recovered they're sent to Hawaii for DNA testing. When that person's ID is confirmed he is repatriated back to the United States with full military honors and returned to any surviving family members.

During the 2007 field season Bob was instrumental in bringing a new set of eyes, a set of 30-year-experienced PJ eyes, to the team. He molded the team in terms of preparation, safety, checklists, nomenclature, GPS waypoints, improved search methodologies (to make them more efficient) and last, but not least, introduced the concept of man-movies (it's a guy thing). He helped find a Corsair that the team had been looking for for several years and finally, he started the process for the Palauans to have their own SAR (Search And Rescue) team.

After having been in the field with the team for a month, when he got home to Florida he got a few hours of sleep, got up and drove his trailer (a toy-hauler with his Centennial Harley in it) up to the drop zone in Dublin, Georgia, to run the St. Patrick's day boogie he'd organized. On the 3rd jump Saturday morning (the 1st day of the boogie) a not-to-be-named-here individual did an extremely aggressive 270° high-speed diving turn with his parachute in the middle of the group of parachutes from the jump they were both on and flew directly into Bob's back at 80 MPH (when he was 150' in the air). Tragically both were killed on the initial impact.

What you see here is Bob's funeral, with full military honors, at the DeLand drop zone. A team of 5 PJs from the Air Force Honor Guard at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, has just escorted 2 United States flags and the bag carrying Bob's ashes from the center stage where they'd lain during the service and are presenting the ash bag to Bob's mother for a final goodbye. After each family member said her/his goodbyes the bag and 2 flags were escorted to a group of 50 waiting skydivers who then took off and flew up to 12,500' where they jumped out and made a 50-person formation and released Bob's ashes into the atmosphere above the place that he loved (it's called an aerial burial). Then the planes flew back around and 2 other skydivers jumped out with each one carrying one of the flags in a bag on his chest. After they deployed their parachutes the flags were lowered below them and flown back to the drop zone where they were prevented from touching the ground and were refolded by the PJs back into ceremonial flag triangles (like you see here) and presented to Bob's parents, Jerry and Betty, and his daughter, Shiara, in honor of his service to the nation.

Atmosphere is a lot more than just the air around us. It's what we use to stay alive, to travel through to other parts of the planet, to play in and yes, sometimes even die and be buried in.

Bob Holler's memorial site
USAF Pararescue

USA-Canada / USA-Florida

Lat: 29° 3' 49.8" N
Long: 82° 17' 45.28" W

Elevation: 69

→ maps.google.com [EXT]

Precision is: High. Pinpoints the exact spot.

Canon Digital Rebel (300D), Peleng 8mm lens, Nodal Ninja 3 panohead, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod, ISO 100, f8, 1/500 second exposure, Canon RAW, Photoshop CS, PTGui 6.0.3, Pano2QTVR 1.6.0, NBNC, PDL, USAF PJs

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