Birtel, Harry

Harry Birtel

Harry Birtel, Master Sergeant, USAF (Retired)

February 17, 1936 – March 30, 2021

Master Sergeant Harry Birtel was born on February 17, 1936 in Hawley, PA, where he was raised and attended school.

In 1953 he went into the U.S. Army, completed Basic Training, Army Airborne Jump School, and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC where he served as a Combat Infantry Communications Specialist for three years during the Korean Conflict.

In 1957 he joined the U.S. Air Force where he served as a Fire Fighting and Aircraft Crash Rescue Specialist and a Security Police Officer until 1963 when he applied for and was accepted for training into the U.S. Air Force Pararescue Rescue and Survival career field.

After completing the U.S. Navy Underwater Swimmers (Divers) School, Air Force Survival Training Course, Rescue and Survival Technician Medical Course, Army Ranger Mountain Climbing- Course, and the Pararescue Transition Training Course he became a Pararescueman in 1963 where he served for the next sixteen years.

During these sixteen years he served part of the time in the Spacecraft Recovery Program under the operational control of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Spacecraft programs. When these Spacecraft returned to earth, deployed their parachutes, and splashed down in the oceans, his job as one of the three man team members deployed around the world was to Parachute to the spacecraft, attach a flotation device to prevent the craft from sinking, provide any medical treatment to the Astronauts if required, and get the Astronauts safely out of the spacecraft when recovery ships arrived on scene. He was one of the participating recovery force members during the return of the first Apollo XI Moon landing flight in July 1969.

Master Sergeant Birtel served three tours as a Pararescue aircrew member in Vietnam in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1970 and 1971. During these tours he flew over 200 combat missions and participated in the recovery of over fifty Navy, Marine, and Air Force pilots who had been shot down mostly over North Vietnam.

Decorations received include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, seven Air Medals, U.S. Air Force and Navy Commendation Medals, three Vietnam Service Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation for his lifesaving efforts and recovery of downed pilots in Vietnam.

He served as Air Crew Standardization Officer at American Military installations in the Philippines, Spain, Scotland, and at Pease Air Force Base, NH and as Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of Pararescue Operational Teams ranging in size from seven to twenty-five men at Air Force Installations in Guam, Vietnam, Korea, Hill AFB, Utah, and Kirtland AFB, NM.

He was the Academic Manager of the U.S. Air Force Pararescue School at Kirtland AFB, NM, and served as a Flight Examiner on HC-130 rescue fixed wing aircraft, as well as UH-1, HH-3, and HH-53 (Jolly Green Giant) rescue helicopters. He instructed students as a flight, ground, and academic instructor in aircraft, in the field as well as in the classroom.

In 1977 he was assigned to Headquarters, 1550 Air Crew Training Crew as the Pararescue Air Crew Standardization Superintendent where he monitored and inspected Pararescue activities at Kirtland AFB, NM and Lackland AFB, TX. He served in this capacity until his retirement from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant in March 1979 with over 26 years of service.

Master Sergeant Birtel accumulated over 3000 flying hours and 250 parachute jumps and earned the Chief Air Crew Member badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, Parachute Jump Master and Underwater (SCUBA DIVERS) certification.

Other service awards include the Combat Readiness Medal, two Army and Six Air Force Good Conduct Medals, two National Defense Service Medals, two Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross and Campaign Ribbon.

While in the service he continued his formal education and obtained an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Management from the Community College of the Air Force in March 1979.

After leaving the Air Force he attended the Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, the University of Albuquerque, and the University of New Mexico obtaining three years of College education in the Academic Specialty of Business Administration and Management.

In 1987 he became a Reserve Officer with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and performed in special functions and activities for the Sheriff’s Department as well as assisting and backing up regular full time Deputies in law enforcement activities.

In 1989 he applied for the position of Deputy Sheriff, was accepted, and entered the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Academy where he completed training in June 1989 and was certified by the State of New Mexico Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Academy as a Law Enforcement Officer and a full time Deputy Sheriff with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department.

He has served as a Field Services patrol officer and Field Investigator in all areas of Bernalillo County; North, South and East Mountain areas performing duty on all shifts as well as duty in the Court Services Division.

In December 1991 he applied for and was accepted in the Criminal Investigations Division as a Detective with the Property Crimes Section. Here he investigated numerous Fraud, Embezzlement, Burglaries, Criminal Damage to Property, Larcenies, and all types of property crime cases.

In January 1994 he applied for and was accepted into the Violent Crimes Section of the Criminal Investigations Division where he investigates Violent Crimes against persons of all types up to and including Homicides.

He is married to the former Juanita Catherine Naylor and has three children, Terri Birtel, Laurie Horn, Tracey Birtel, and three grandchildren, Nicole Chavez, Ariana Birtel, Richard Horn. He was preceded in death by a sister, Dorothy Campfield, and two brothers, Donald Birtel and Carl Birtel.

A Memorial Service will be held on Friday, April 16, 2021, 10:00 a.m., at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church, 5712 Paradise Blvd NW.

To plant trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.

Published by Tri-County Independent from Apr. 13 to Apr. 15, 2021.

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