Veteran of the Month: Duane Hayes

The nation was introduced to Master Sgt. Duane Hayes on the highest-rated National Geographic channel’s documentary series “Inside Combat Rescue” that aired on March 25.  Word spread quickly that Hayes, one of Milan’s own, would be featured in the series. Milan watched with pride as this 1992 Milan High School graduate, U.S. Air Force, Pararescueman and hometown hero served his country.

Hayes is assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron and was stationed in Afghanistan.  He was filmed in the final episode of the series titled “Inside Combat Rescue Coming Home.”  Hayes is now home with his wife Anissa and sons Landon and Rayden ages 7 and 4-years.  Home is now Valdosta, Georgia located near Moody Air Force Base, where he remains on active duty.

During the filming that went on 24-hours- seven-days a week, Hayes said he had to adjust to the lights used for the cameras and the questions from the crew were overwhelming at times.  “They wanted us to answer and talk about the mission in our own words,” he said.  They were an amazing group of guys, but I would think, “I want to get focused, after all this is reality.”

This was the first time in history camera crews were allowed to film the U.S. Air Force pararescuemen or “PJs” on a mission.  The documentary showed Hayes and his crew rescuing injured civilians hit by two suicide bombers and a U.S. serviceman who lost three limbs and was losing blood.  The “PJs” rescue Americans and Allied forces no matter the circumstance; shot down, behind enemy lines, engaged in gunfire, wounded or captured.

Hayes said the medical training they receive and the care they provide shown in the series is similar to a paramedic in the states.  Their mission often becomes more dangerous due to rules of engagement. Getting close enough to clearly identify a target that can draw gunfire became necessary to cut down on collateral damage, Hayes said.

Hayes has great compassion for the Afghan people.  There are moments where you are flying for 15 minutes or so and you wonder what it must be like to live and grow up with military all around and IEDs going off, he said.  You should be laughing when you are growing up, he said.

“You want to stay forever and help them out,” Hayes said, “They are caught in a place, the wrong place.”  It’s an eye-opener, he said seeing bad people do bad things, but bad people do things on our soil too.  When asked if American troops should remain in Afghanistan, Hayes said “I don’t know,” with his empathy for the people quite apparent in his voice.

His initial  or indoctrination training took place at Lackland Air Force base in Texas   Describing the training, Hayes said you train for more than two years all over the United States.  They have a pipeline of schools for you to attend, and “they pound you really good,” he said.

Hayes has served for 18 years and plans to retire from military service after 20 years.  He said when he gets back to civilian life; he wants to finish his bachelor’s degree and would probably look for a job in health care.  He thought a hospital administrative job would be a good fit.

His parents Margaret and Bill Hayes are pretty much snowbirds now, Hayes said, spending the cold months in Florida and returning to Milan for the summer months. He was surprised to learn from his sister Shelly Hayes Bartnicki of Milan that a local newspaper wanted to interview him and that Milan was all abuzz over him.  When asked if he could be featured as a Milan Chamber of Commerce Veteran of the Month, he said, “I would be honored.”

Master Sgt. Duane Hayes is photographed in Kandahar, Afghanistan by the HH-60 helicopter he occupies while performing dangerous rescue missions as a U.S. Air Force pararescueman in the 38th Rescue Squadron.

Master Sgt. Duane Hayes is photographed in Kandahar, Afghanistan by the HH-60 helicopter he occupies while performing dangerous rescue missions as a U.S. Air Force pararescueman in the 38th Rescue Squadron.

The food at their headquarters in Afghanistan is pretty good according to Hayes.  He said they no longer eat Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) but food is delivered to them in military Mermite Insulated Food Containers, the servicemen refer to as “Merms”.  We really call what’s in the container ‘mystery meat’, Hayes laughingly said.  Besides missing his wife and children, Hayes said he missed not having his favorite food.  “Tacos are my favorite meal,” he said.

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