Never Quit: How I Became a Special Ops Pararescue Jumper

Never Quit: How I Became a Special Ops Pararescue Jumper

by Jimmy Settle, Don Rearden

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Overview

The young adult adaptation of the epic memoir of an Alaskan pararescue jumper, Special Forces Operator, and decorated war hero.

“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 some of 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 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 save his brothers.

From death-defying Alaskan wilderness training, wild rescues, and battles against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, this is the true story of how a boy from humble beginnings became an American hero.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250139610
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 231,811
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 12 - 16 Years

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.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Son of a Survivor

I was born into a somewhat chaotic situation, to a single mother of two — my younger brother and me. We lived all over the place in Anchorage. Mom went through the men in her life like they were winters. She was a recovering addict, and I grew up being dragged along with her to recovery meetings. I was the skinny little goofy-looking kid fidgeting in the back of those meetings, usually bored out of my skull. I had no choice but to be quiet and listen to the struggles and horrors the adults in the circle spoke about. There was nothing for an overactive kid like me in those smoky meeting halls, and my only source of entertainment came from sucking on the sugar cubes I stole from the blue box near the coffeepot.

It was at those meetings that I heard my mom's horrible, yet incredible, survival story, over and over again. But this wasn't just her story; it was also my grandmother's. And later in life, I would learn that their stories and their strengths had become my own. The apple, as it turns out, only took a few bounces from the tree.

There were bits of the story my mom left out. Her version was only a sliver of her horrific tragedy, a summary of an event that lasted hours and changed her forever. She would have to learn to move forward with her life or allow the haunting memories and survivor's guilt to swallow her. Her story was the kind of tale that, when she told it, anyone in the circle who heard it could nod in understanding of why she attempted to escape her past with drugs and alcohol.

My mom had lost most of her family in a boating accident. Her dad, a stepbrother, a brother, a sister, and a best friend. But there was more to the event than just the loss of most of the family.

The real story, the one my grandmother Marian tells, is much more dramatic. It was only after I returned from Afghanistan that my grandmother shared her version of the day that created the survivors in our family.

One sunny summer day in July 1974, my grandma and her husband, Fred Schultz, were on their twenty-four-foot riverboat with their children, some friends, and their kids. Ten people in all. They were all camped out on the shore of Skilak Lake, on the Kenai Peninsula, and had gone out for a boat ride, when the wind picked up.

The famous Kenai River, with king salmon the size of a kindergartner and trout as big as your leg, pours into the northeast side of the lake and drains out the northwestern end. The lake, shaped like a body of a giant helicopter, is fifteen miles long, up to four miles wide, and more than five hundred feet deep in places, with mountains and a glacier. The waters of Skilak are notoriously cold and turbulent. It isn't unusual to have water temperatures hovering around thirty-eight degrees, even in the summer. The mix of cold water and the glacial ice of the massive Harding Icefield, along with the high mountains that support it and work like a giant wind tunnel, make for a deadly combination that can turn a mirror-smooth lake into the frothing mouth of a monster in an instant. Within minutes, summer warmth combining with the cold can create winds that explode off the ice field in what Alaskans refer to as williwaws — strong gusts that tear down from glacial valleys, often wreaking havoc.

The families were camped where the Kenai drains into the upper part of the lake. They had been boating up the river to fish. This was my family. My roots. The generation before me, spending a beautiful sunny day together as a healthy, happy Alaskan family.

They fished all day long up the river and around six that evening called it quits. As my grandma recalls, she wore only a T-shirt, jeans, and hip waders. After a great afternoon of fishing, they packed their gear, donned their life jackets, and boated back down the Kenai. The agile riverboat slipped out through the flat water at the mouth of the river and into Skilak Lake. At first, the lake's surface was only a little choppy, but in mere seconds, their fun family outing turned serious and dangerous. The surface of the lake filled with huge, rolling waves. My grandpa had little choice but to try to turn the boat so they could stay closer to shore. The waves built and were as tall as a basketball player, over six feet, cresting and breaking and pushing and lifting. The flat-bottom boat wasn't designed for ocean-sized waves. Before any of them could react, one tall wall of water hovered over them and another surged at the bow.

"We're going to lose her!" Fred cried as the first wave crashed over the bow and thrust the boat downward. It was one of two things my grandma can remember him saying.

In an instant, everything went under. The next thing she knew, she was plunged into the water. The cold hit her with a jolt. Her rubber hip boots filled and began pulling at her legs like giant tentacles, sucking her down. She kicked off the boots and flailed for the surface. When she erupted from below, everybody was spread out and there were waves, giant waves.

My grandma spotted my grandfather and swam to him. He had been the only one of the ten not wearing a life jacket. She wrapped her arms around him, trying to float and hold him above the water. Fred gurgled and choked. Foam bubbled out of his mouth. He had only the strength to say one last thing to her, words she would forever carry with her.

"I'm dying. Let me go."

She had to do the unthinkable. With no choice but to free her grip on the man she loved, she let go and began swimming.

The crests rose high over her head, and in the deep troughs, she couldn't find the others. The situation was all terror and confusion.

At first, my mom and her best friend, Betty, held on to each other. When my mom saw Fred drown, she realized the severity of their situation. She held on to Betty until her friend slipped from her hands, and she could feel herself slipping away, too.

My grandmother found Justin Koles, a family friend, holding my mom, who was sixteen. The young girl in his arms was unconscious, and Justin held her afloat and swam toward my grandma.

"Take Diane with you!" my grandma, always in charge, yelled over the wind and breaking waves. "Swim for shore, and get help!"

Justin, twenty-seven, also a policeman, kicked toward the shore, towing my mom.

The cold was taking its toll. Grandma knew she didn't have much time left. With the last of her energy, she made her way toward the rocky shore to save her own life. She had no idea what had become of the others. All she knew was that her only chance of survival was to get out and find a way to get warm.

She struggled through the waves, her arms and legs so numb she couldn't even feel herself kicking.

When she reached the shore, the waves broke over the top of her and slammed her up against a cliff that rose straight up from the water. Her arms and legs barely held enough strength to keep her upright, but adrenaline and fear surged through her. All she could do was begin the steep climb. At this point, she wore only a tank top, socks, and jeans, all soaking wet in the wind.

While Grandma was climbing, Justin swam hard, with an arm around my mom. He fought the waves all the way to shore, and by luck, he reached a small cove. He left my mom and ran. He sprinted along the shoreline to try to get help. In the meantime, my grandma had reached the top of the cliff, not knowing if anyone else had made the swim to shore. She was hypothermic from the extended exposure to the frigid waters and was trying to get her bearings. The shore of Skilak Lake in that area is rugged, with a dense forest of spruce, birch, and tangled alder brush. She stripped down out of her clothes, wrung out her wet jeans, put them back on, and stuffed leaves and grass inside her clothes to try to stay warm. She explored the terrain until she finally reached an overlook above the cove. Below her, she spotted her daughter lying in the sand. She tore through the brush like an angry bear. When she arrived, she found my mom still unconscious, with white foam bubbling out of her mouth, just like Fred.

Grandma started doing chest compressions on her, yelling over and over, "You're not going to die! You're not going to die!"

With all the carnage on that day, Grandma felt she had to keep Diane from dying, and this was something she could do. She would do something about this. She wouldn't lose her girl, too. She worked until my mom's eyes fluttered and she started breathing on her own. But Grandma's daughter still would die if she couldn't get her warm. Grandma found a Zippo lighter in her jeans. The lighter was all wet and wouldn't work. She sat there, holding Diane in her arms, trying to warm her, and then an idea hit her.

She remembered a survival tip she had learned while watching an old television show about how to survive if you were caught in the Alaskan wilderness. The episodes kept flashing back to her. That was how she knew to use the grass to stuff into her clothing to create a barrier to keep her warm. The next thing she recalled was how to start a fire with a wet Zippo.

She collected a small pile of tinder. With her trembling hands, she somehow managed to get the lighter apart. She blew on the flint and wick to dry them a bit and then used the sparker to ignite the fuel sponge inside the lighter. Fire. Soon she had my mom warming up by a big burning pile of driftwood, and then she ran down the beach and picked up life jackets that had floated ashore. She hung these up in a tree so that boaters would see them.

Then, with the fire blazing, she took off on her own to try to find help. She bushwhacked for what felt like hours until she broke out on a rocky overlook where she could survey the lake. She couldn't see any signs of humanity. For a moment, she lost it and began to shriek. She screamed into the roaring winds, and, the way she tells the story, it felt like her screams were being shoved right back into her mouth. As if the wind that had already swallowed most of her family was just throwing her screams right back at her.

She wailed for a while and then started exploring again, until she realized she had just been walking in circles. Frustrated, disheartened, and exhausted, she sat down, only to feel the vibrations of what she thought was an approaching boat motor. She raced over to the rocky overlook, hoping for help in the form of a fisherman, and began to get excited. At first, she didn't understand or believe what she was seeing. Instead of a fishing boat, there it was, nearly twelve hours after their boat sank: a giant green helicopter.

Frantic, she waved, and they spotted her. The helo hovered, and a man in an orange suit jumped out of the bird, into the lake, and swam over to where she was. He checked her out and said, "We can't hoist out right here. We've got to hike a bit." So they hiked up above the prominence she was on, and then they sent down "the bullet," the forest penetrator, a metal seat attached to the hoist cable, and hoisted her up into the helicopter.

Sitting inside were Justin and my mom. They were the only three survivors among the ten souls on that boat. The aircrew flew them to the Soldotna hospital. My mother picked up pneumonia from the water that had penetrated deep into her lungs. My grandmother was treated for hypothermia. It would take a long time for either of them to warm up, an experience I would later share.

"It's really crazy that we got saved by the rescue guys and you went on to become one of them!" my grandmother exclaimed after sharing her version of our story. At first, she had a hard time coping with the loss, but she said that what helped her move on was realizing that it's just life, and if you choose to live in Alaska, these things are going to happen.

The remains of my stepuncle, Harold, eight years old, were buried according to his living mother's wishes, and the ashes of my aunt Kathy, also eight, were scattered over Sleeping Lady, a mountain north of Anchorage. The bodies of my grandmother's friends and my mom's friend Betty were located, but to this day, those of my grandmother's husband, Fred, and their nine-year-old son, Danny, remain unrecovered.

The incredible thing is that during this whole struggle, my grandma never once thought she was going to die, never thought about giving up. According to my grandmother, smiling through the hard knocks and embracing the challenges of life is a family tradition. "We're not boring people," she says. "Nothing is ever boring in our family."

I grew up with two notions as the only certainties in my life: nothing is ever boring, and, since that fateful day in July, that I come from a family where hardship and survival go hand in hand.

CHAPTER 2

Alive Day

I wasn't groomed to be a college athlete. My mom signed me up for track and cross-country running in junior high in the hope that it would chill me out. I'd always had too much energy, and maybe she thought sprinting through the woods around Anchorage would be a good way for me to burn some of it off. That, or she was hoping I'd take to running and not some expensive sport like hockey or football. I didn't care what sport she wanted me in; I just wanted friends.

My first varsity race, freshman year, was for the Cook Inlet regional championships. The fastest runners from the biggest schools in Alaska's biggest city were all competing in one meet. I was shy, nervous, and in a bit over my head. My coach at the time was Joe Alward, a positive and encouraging man who played an important role for a kid like me, without a consistent dad in my life. Coach Joe would be one of those guys who helped me learn what my body was capable of enduring and what I could accomplish if I worked hard and always maintained a positive attitude.

After placing thirtieth in the race, I said, between breaths, "Holy cow, Coach Joe, those guys run fast."

Coach Joe turned to me and said, "Don't you worry, Jimmy. You'll be there someday, too." And like most things that had to do with running, he was right. With great coaches and teammates, I lettered in three varsity sports my freshman year: cross-country, track, and cross-country skiing.

One of the seniors on my team that year would walk away with the state championship. That was Michael Gomez. He was three years older than I was and a phenomenal runner. I looked to him for inspiration, and I enjoyed training with him. A gifted athlete, Gomez didn't let his ego get to him. After winning the state championship, he showed me his medal, and I thought to myself, I want to get one of those someday.

By my sophomore year, I was beginning to really fall in love with running and cross-country skiing but also with the parks in our town, which are mostly heavy forest with trail systems. I couldn't afford a vehicle, so I ran or biked everywhere. Anchorage is spread out, with the municipality covering 1,963 square miles. I'm sure there are a few of those square miles I didn't cover on foot or on my bike, but if I wanted to get somewhere, I usually had to do it under my own power. My mom drilled into me a military-style work ethic, and she never failed to say, "Never be late to work, Jimmy. Don't you ever be late to work." I rode an old mountain bike, and when that bike broke, which was often, I had no choice but to transition from my bike to a run. Never be late for work!

I also couldn't call at a moment's notice and ask, "Mom? Can you pick me up?" She worked constantly, so her likely response would be simply, "No!"

A single mom with two rambunctious boys to support, she waitressed for years, then eventually went to barber school, became a barber, and went on to open her own salon. She toiled alone to reach that place, kind of an American dream story of her own. Mom was driven, and that determination rubbed off on me. Plus, all my biking and running to cover the wide expanse of our city equated to great lungs and a strong cardio system.

When I wasn't working or training, much of my free time was spent at Kincaid Park, an incredible 1,400-acre park on the southwest edge of town, with nearly forty miles of trail. The park is situated on an old Nike Hercules missile site. Steep bluffs on the perimeter drop down into the tidal monster that is Cook Inlet, and scattered throughout the park are strange concrete structures, covered over with earth, that once concealed missiles and soldiers. Now the buildings contain high-tech ski trail–grooming equipment and park vehicles.

This old military installation became my playground. Whenever I could, I ran and skied on the rolling trails through the woods, and even at that young age, I felt lucky to live in a place with such a park. Kincaid also kept me out of trouble, which I think was my mother's goal all along.

By my junior year, I started to make a name for myself on the state running scene. My coaches at West High pushed me hard, but still I wanted more. I joined the Team Alaska track club, and under the guidance of Marcus Dunbar and a core group of seriously running-minded athletes, I learned to run fast. We did strenuous workouts in the snow. If you've ever run in deep, soft sand, then you almost know what it is like to run in the snow. It's mostly the same, except harder and colder. Your ankles freeze. Your toes freeze. Soon your feet become these hard blocks you're running on.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Never Quit"
by .
Copyright © 2018 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 Son of a Survivor 11

2 Alive Day 21

3 Shoe Guy 45

4 The Past 53

5 Basic Contraband 79

6 Superman School 89

7 Major Adrian 113

8 Operation Green Feet 125

9 Eating Ants 141

10 Strike Two 163

11 Yo-Yo and the Shark 179

12 Free Fall 187

13 Emergency Medicine 201

14 Dirt Medicine 207

15 Alaska PJ No. 72 229

16 Saving Barbie 239

17 The Same Soaking 245

18 A Bulldog's Bite 251

19 Blessing and Apology 265

20 Blood, Bandages, Bullets 273

21 Into Hell 273

22 No Time to Quit 291

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