How ‘Charlie the PJ’ Became the Official Mascot of US Air Force Pararescue

October 29, 2021Matt Fratus
Charlie the PJ mascot pararescue

Charlie the PJ is the official mascot of the US Air Force pararescue community and since 1964 has garnered a life of its own. Photo courtesy of Aaron Love.

On the tropical island group of Fiji one pleasant day in 1964, Airman Tony Willis, a legend within the US Air Force pararescue community, had a chance encounter with an unforgettable item — an 18-inch-tall head carved out of wood and shaped into a South Sea demigod with a nasty snarl. 

Willis knew he couldn’t leave without the head. Although the legend remains a bit murky in its finer details, one unassailable fact persists: Willis’ rare find became the PJs’ new mascot, “Charlie the PJ.”

“Charlie graduated the pipeline,” Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Love, an Air Force pararescueman, or PJ, told the Late Night History podcast. “He was properly evaluated. He’s been to jumpmaster school, he’s a static-line jumpmaster, he’s a dive supervisor, he’s a free-fall jumpmaster; he became a badge of honor.”

Charlie the PJ coffee or die
Aaron Love, kneeling on the left, has taken many photographs with beloved mascot Charlie the PJ. Photo courtesy of Aaron Love.

This “badge of honor” has created a rite of passage in which all active-duty and retired PJs participate. The whereabouts of Charlie the PJ are a manhunt priority for every respectable PJ. Whether it’s on a combat-zone deployment or tagging along for a reunion, Charlie the PJ has been there and done that.

In order to enforce safe and ethical practices when handling Charlie the PJ, the Air Force pararescue community established a list of 11 rules. This list can be found within a scroll clenched between Charlie’s two hands. Any infractions provoke a curse upon the violator’s unfortunate soul.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Charlie will be acquired only by fully and currently qualified or retired pararescuemen.

  2. Any effort by non-pararescue personnel to abscond with Charlie will be met with the full, unified force of the career field.

  3. Charlie will physically occupy and dominate a place of honor at all pararescue functions at which his presence is expected.

  4. Efforts to abscond with Charlie will not be instituted until the final hours of the function of which he is in attendance.

  5. Only covert measures reflecting great pride upon the pararescue career field will be employed during Charlie’s acquisition.

  6. Physical violence will not be employed except during circumstances in Rule Two above.

  7. Area destruction during any acquisition effort will be kept to a minimum except during circumstances reflected in Rule Two above.

  8. Charlie will not be altered or changed in any manner unless authorized by the consensus of the Pararescue Association, officiated by the president of the association.

  9. His location need not be made public; however, he will be prominently displayed at all times during his tenure at his hosting pararescue team’s section.

  10. Charlie will be transferred from point to point only through the most secure means, inclusive of the US Postal Service, UPS Inc., FedEx, etc.

  11. If Charlie is acquired by a recognized pararescue retiree, that individual will not retain custody of him for more than one seven-day period before surrendering him to the operational pararescue team of his choice.

Charlie the PJ coffee or die
Charlie the PJ poses for a team photo during mountain ops. Photo courtesy of Aaron Love.

The tradition of acquiring, stealing, and taking team photos with Charlie the PJ has shaped generations of Air Force pararescuemen — the wooden icon even has its own Instagram page.

“If anybody that isn’t a PJ puts hands on Charlie, it’s like the record screeches, and everybody stops, because you’re not even allowed to hold Charlie if you’re not a PJ,” Love said. “That’s our mascot. If there’s going to be a big gathering of PJs, Charlie is expected to attend if your team is going, but that opens him up to shenanigans.”

Although it started as a team joke, Charlie the PJ is now an indispensable part of the pararescue community’s warrior culture.

Read Next: What It Means To Be a US Air Force Pararescue Jumper, According to 3 PJs

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
US Launches Airstrikes in Syria After Drone Kills US Worker

While it’s not the first time the U.S. and Iran have traded airstrikes in Syria, the attack and the ...

March 24, 2023Associated Press
The Gift jason dunham
‘The Gift’ Explores the Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Jason Dunham

"The Gift" tells the story of the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor after the Vietnam War. ...

March 24, 2023Mac Caltrider
uss milius
US Denies Chinese Claim It Drove Away American Destroyer

The U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said that a statement from China's Southern Theatre Command that it had fo...

March 23, 2023Associated Press
The Speed Project: Vet Team To Run in Lawless, Invite-Only Ultramarathon

For the first time, a team of (mostly) US veterans and active-duty service members will run in The S...

March 23, 2023Jenna Biter
uranium-based ammo ammunition Ukraine UK depleted uranium
A Look At the Uranium-Based Ammo the UK Will Send to Ukraine

The British defense ministry on Monday confirmed it would provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

March 23, 2023Associated Press
Zaporizhzhia Ukraine Russia
Ukraine: Russia Hits Apartments and Dorm, Killing Civilians

“Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegr...

March 22, 2023Associated Press
cold brew coffee soda float
The Bitter Barista's Cold Brew Coffee Soda Float

Today, we combine the best of both worlds with this indulgent recipe, smashing together our love of coffee and ice cream with a cold brew coffee soda float!

March 21, 2023Heather Lynn
abrams tanks ukraine
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved