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Backcountry Workhorse, traversing across snowfields and crevasses on White Elk Glacier, Alaska while training for technical alpine rescue. (Image: Courtesy of Chris Robertson)

This local author wants you to know about the PJs (the Pararescue Unit)

When we find ourselves in danger, we can call the police. When the police are in trouble, they can call the armed forces. While our Army, Navy Seals and Marines fight for us in time of war, who can they turn to when they are in serious danger? Who is even capable enough to answer such a call? Who do the strongest and the bravest of us turn to when they need someone ever stronger and even braver?

From jumping out of planes into freezing waters, dodging bullets, and basically doing anything James Bond would and more, local man, Jimmy Settle runs directly into the heart of danger while others are running for their lives. “Never Quit” is the true story about how this para-rescue jumper or “PJ,” cheated death multiple times to save the lives of others. His book had already hit Amazon’s Best Sellers list before it even came out! And now that it’s here, I had the privilege of speaking with Settle about his adventures as a “PJ,” the book, and his life now.

Seattle Refined: So what exactly does a para-rescue jumper, or “PJ” do?

Jimmy Settle: It’s like being a fireman on steroids, plus, plus plus! We are crawling through submarines, running towards the sound of gunfire, and crawling through burning wreckage. We’re the ones that Navy seals and Rangers call when they go down. We’re like ninjas with huge guns and we don’t stop for weather, bullets, anything. If someone is hurting and mission drops, we go! There are only 300 PJ’s world-wide and out of my original class of 200 men trying out, I was one of the 20 that graduated.

How did you decide you wanted to do this?
A friend of mine in high school tried out for this job. He was showing me pictures of jumping out of the back of a C-130 on a jet-ski and saying things like, “today we’re gonna sky dive into the ocean and execute a scuba mission.” The sexy part to me was not the gun-toting and awesome machines, but the civilian search and rescue team.

What made you decide to write this book?
Don Reardon is the reason this whole thing happened. He’s an English professor and has been a good friend of mine for years. He would hear my stories and insisted that they needed to be written. Don kept in touch with me and when I was at an extremely low point in my life, he was among the many people who helped get me back on my feet and the book was a big part of that. This book helped me settle some of the demons in my mind. An opportunity to iron out those wrinkles in my memory.

What was that process like? Was it hard to relive some of those intense situations?
Yes. I think that’s why Don was pushing me to keep writing. When I came back stateside, I was totally broken. Unable to drive a car, be in crowds, my marriage fell apart, and I wound up being homeless for a while. Basically a hero to homeless in two months. Don kept engaging me throughout this journey and I sought help from a lot of doctors and mental health professionals. They all said to start writing and journaling to try to get out these horrible ghosts I couldn’t shake. Every time I tried to do it, the pen was too heavy. The paper was too white. I didn’t know how to start. Don offered to work together and help. He said, “You tell me the stories, I’ll transcribe them and we can edit together.” We did a lot of that, then he gave me writing assignments. We wound up making a huge manuscript but we cut it. It was a really cool side effect of this experience.

After some of your near death experiences, (including getting shot in the head in Afghanistan), what kept you wanting to go back out in the field?
Two reasons. The short, simple one is my team and the mission. PJ teams are small, smaller than the Seals. There are only 300 PJs and 3,000 Seals. Our creed is “Never quit. We place our personal desires and comforts aside so that others may live.”

Number two, I’ve been saying this mantra in my heart. It was something that I had been repeating over and over for five years. There were a lot of times where life was uncomfortable where I thought, I don’t have to be this rescue guy. It’s not for money, there is no fame involved, but I do it to make the world a better place. The temptation to quit had been there but this was the first time (after surviving a shot to the head) where it was real. I could go home. There’s no dishonor in going home after this injury. It turned into a real moment of internal reflection. What kind of person am I? Am I going to execute these words that I’ve been building my life around.

You’ve received a Purple Heart as well as numerous other medals and accolades. What’s the one that had the most impact on you?
Definitely the Air Medal with Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster. I got that for doing crazy stuff in the helicopter and saving people's lives. Starting IV’s in the middle of the night, putting a guys guts back in their shirt, etc. The coolest accolade is an award that’s presented by the Jolly Green Association and they gave me the ‘Rescue Mission of the Year’ award.

How did it feel to be on Amazon’s Best Sellers list before the book was even released?
That was pretty exciting! That was really cool to see something like that happen. The support for this book has been phenomenal and far exceeded any expectations I had. To put it on paper and hash it out, the real value of this experience has been the connection to my team and the sorting out of my memories. Also, paying a tribute to our families. Its the kind of job that when you come home, you’re still Dad even if I was just hanging out of a helicopter.

What do you hope people gain from reading this book?
A couple things. Simply an understanding of this very quiet, unknown group of people who are willing to drop everything to go save everyone. We were in Katrina, Haiti, and underneath rocket launches. I want to spread the word about these dudes. We’re in a political time and the world is at war while the media is about the direct action strike groups. They know about the Rangers, Seals, etc. and that’s great but there are still lives being taken. You have this whole other niche that are just as well-trained, and their sole purpose is to save people. So I wanted some awareness of the humanitarian aspect of the military. It’s also just a book about a dude who keeps getting up after getting knocked down and I hope that’s something that people can relate to.

“Never Quit” is available now. Jimmy Settle currently resides in Issaquah with his wife, kids, and pets. Check out his author Facebook page to stay up to date with events happening in your area.

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