UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - For each servicemember, the reason they decide to serve is different. For some it's school. For others it's a chance to see the world. Still, others choose to serve because they feel obligated to give back.
The latter is the case for Airman 1st Class Sven Raemer, a special mission aviator on the HH-60 Pave Hawk. Born in West Berlin, Germany, he moved with his parents and sister to Colorado in 1993, eventually receiving his American citizenship in 2010, the first in his family to do so.
Raemer is currently deployed to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, from RAF Lakenheath, England. For Raemer, it's just another step in his effort to give back.
"I think service, even before the military, was really important to me," he said. "Giving back for all the liberties and freedoms we have is a big deal. If you're appreciative of what you have, you should really give back."
However, giving back by joining the military, especially by being an aerial gunner, may not have been what his parents had in mind.
"Growing up, I came from a very peacenik kind of family," Raemer explained. "My mom used to participate in protests, my dad never touched a gun, probably still hasn't. We didn't have violent video games, no BB guns. I guess I sort of sought it out as a kid."
Seeking it out eventually led to Raemer joining the military in April, 2011. Initially a door gunner, the Air Force would merge the career field with helicopter flight engineer to create the new special mission aviator. Raemer was one of the first in his squadron to become a fully qualified SMA.
"It's a steep learning curve," said Capt. Sean Ruane, the lead pilot on Raemer's assigned aircraft. "He'd been an aerial gunner for six or seven months and he was comfortable in that career field before he switched over to special mission aviator. He just finished his training about a month before we left for our deployment.
"So not only is he just trying to get his feet under him as a fully qualified SMA, but in a deployed location where everything is so much faster and so much harder; and if you don't keep up, you'll never get back on track."
Being a SMA carries a lot of responsibility. The SMA calculates weights and power requirements, along with maintaining the safety of the aircraft and everyone on-board.
Raemer tries not to think about it, focusing on the mission at hand.
"If you think about how much responsibility that is, especially being the youngest guy, the lowest ranking guy, the least experienced guy, that can overwhelm you pretty quickly," he said. "It'll make you nervous, make you hesitant. You just can't think about it, you have to trust your training. But, it's definitely pretty intense."
With combat search and rescue being their primary mission, Raemer and the crew spend a lot of time on alert. They have to be ready to go at a moment's notice and try to get the helicopter off the ground as fast as possible.
"Right now, we're right under 10 minutes," Raemer said. "We're getting closer to eight minutes; some people do it as fast as five or six minutes."
The waiting game can be frustrating, but Raemer finds ways to fill his time.
"I play video games, do pushups, situps and pullups, I really like to read," he said. "And I may have brought some Legos that I'm building currently."
"Sven is a younger guy, full of gusto and bravado," Ruane added. "He keeps everyone riled up. He's a happy, energetic guy. It's what you need on a deployment. It's kind of like Groundhogs Day here, every day gets so monotonous and if you don't have a guy who comes in and makes you laugh, it can affect the mission."
But when the call comes, the jokes are put aside and the crew is focused on the mission: saving the lives of coalition members injured in battle.
"Somebody's hurt out there," Raemer said. "Somebody we care about, somebody important to their family, to America, to the Air Force. You need to get out there as quick as you can, do your job and get in the air."
During the mission, the SMA has eyes-on the aircraft and the surrounding area. They do a lot so the pilots can focus on flying.
"The SMAs are in charge of protecting the aircraft and maneuvering it," Raemer said. "The pilots do the flying, they have the sticks, but we're the ones who are looking out for everything. We scan and direct the aircraft on where to go."
Once back on the ground, the job isn't over for the SMA. They are in charge of the post-flight inspections, ensuring the aircraft is ready to go for the next mission.
"Since the helicopter stays on alert, it's not like we just shut down the helicopter and walk away and tomorrow come back," Raemer said. "No, the helicopter has to be ready at all times so we have to actively maintain it and inspect it."
Raemer's dedication to service is embodied in the motto of the CSAR airmen: "These things we do ... That others may live."
"I went to American schools, have American friends," Raemer said. "I truly love America. I believe in the American dream. My parents are living that. I'm living that."