AFRL upholds 20-year tradition of hosting Thanksgiving feast for pararescue students

  • Published
  • By Jeanne Dailey
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, NEW MEXICO (AFRL) - As the nation celebrated the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Contracting Divisions carried on a 20-year tradition of providing a Thanksgiving feast to the more than 100 Air Force Pararescuemen, also known as PJs, and Combat Rescue Officers (CRO) from the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron located on Kirtland AFB.

“We started this because the PJs were our neighbors and became family,” said Rhonda Netzer, the deputy chief for the Directed Energy Contracting Division. “We wanted to show them our appreciation for the work they do in saving the lives of others.”

AFRL had to forego last year’s event because of the COVID-19 restrictions. It was important to renew the tradition for 2021, but because planning began later than usual, it almost became just a cookie drive stated Maeghann Dale, an AFRL procurement analyst who spearheaded the effort.

“This tradition of honoring the PJs is so important to us, we persevered and turned it into a bigger event than we had imagined,” said Dale. “Most of the Airmen are not able to make it home due to the PJs tight training schedule, and we wanted to thank these elite warfighters. Preparing a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, is one of the best ways to show them we care.”

“These Things We Do, That Others May Live” is the motto of the PJs, and as members of the Air Force Special Warfare Pararescue, PJs rescue and medically treat downed military personnel all over the world. Their specialized training includes parachuting, scuba diving, mountaineering and rope rescue, survival training, and military parachuting. They also test to become certified paramedics, able to rescue and treat injured personnel in austere conditions.

“AFRL’s annual Thanksgiving meal for the PJ and CRO students is a special tradition that has significant meaning for the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron,” said Capt. Carl Schleich, Director of Operations.  “It represents that our AFRL Kirtland mission partners and our off-base partner, the Kirtland Federal Credit Union, are truly ‘partnered’ with the 351st in helping to care for our students through their arduous 2-3 year training pipelines. In addition, it is a visible sign that our teams are finding ways to once again be together in meaningful ways after the challenges presented by COVID.” 

“This AFRL volunteer effort represents how separated units with disparate mission areas can grow meaningful relationships across “mission borders,” he continued. “Every Thanksgiving, the 351st is deeply thankful for these relationships.”

As in past years, the Kirtland Federal Credit Union funded the entrée, with this year’s turkey and BBQ prepared by Mr. Powdrell’s Barbeque House.

“We are grateful to the Kirtland Federal Credit Union for their partnership in this annual effort,” Dale said. “AFRL could not put this on without their generous donation. It was very gratifying to see the happy looks on the faces of the PJs as they picked up the bounty of food.”

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: