***image1***A CH-47 Chinook helicopter is shot down and four survivors are stranded in a hostile location awaiting rescue. The scenario was part of a joint Combat Search and Rescue Exercise held at Hohenfels Army Air Field, Germany, March 20 to April 2.
Led by the 56th Rescue Squadron, Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, more than 50 people from United States European Command to include members of the 786th Security Forces Squadron, Sembach; the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base; the 236th Medical Company from Landstuhl and survival specialists from Royal Air Forces’ Lakenheath and Mildenhall, England, honed their search and rescue skills in the two-week exercise.
The 56th RQS, which is the only CSAR unit in USEUCOM and NATO also provided two of their HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters during the training event.
The exercise gave the A-10 pilots from the 81st FS as well as the HH-60G Pavehawk aircrew the opportunity to practice what they might experience in a real-world situation, said 1st Lt. Ryan Wood, 56th RQS intelligence officer, who designed the scenarios. To give the crews practice on different types of rescues, a variety of scenarios, to include urban and rural terrain pickup locations and varying the number of survivors who required both ambulatory and nonambulatory care, was also included during the training.
Through radios, the A-10 pilots make contact with the survivors; assessing their injuries and gathering intelligence about their location and the enemies who may be nearby.
“The HH-60 aircrew loves the A-10 because it can get low and eliminate the threat so the helos can go in and pickup the survivors,” said Lieutenant Wood.
Capt. Ron Henderson, a pilot from 56th RQS, said the A-10s are an important part of the rescue.
“The A-10s (patrol) the route and make contact with the survivor. They will authenticate the survivors and make sure they are not the bad guys,” Captain Henderson said. “The A-10s will find out the injuries right off the bat and pass it to us so we can prepare for what exactly we’ll need to take care of the survivors. Then, they clear us a path and direct us to the survivors where we go in for the pickup.”
The pickup of the survivors requires a team effort, and includes the use of two HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters along with crew members, four pararescue jumpers and two security forces members. Depending on the injuries, the survivors are either hoisted up by a strap around their body or on a stretcher with a PJ holding onto them as they are pulled up into the hovering helo.
“The benefit of this training is that we’re working with the guys that we will probably go into theater with at some point,” said Captain Henderson. “We’re working with the A-10s, who are getting a lot of upgrade training and the survivors are getting training from the SERE specialists.”
The ‘survivors’ for the exercise are an Army Blackhawk medical evacuation crew from 236th Medical Company who have never received training like this.
“This is the first time they have done any hands on training,” said Master Sgt. Patrick Carroll, SERE specialist from the 48th FW. “They’ve done medical evacuation and they’ve flown missions – but, they’ve never actually operated a survival radio, used signal mirrors and signaling smoke canisters and so forth to guide the A-10s to their location so they can (identify) them and communicate with them. This is a great opportunity to do a lot of joint training with them.”
Two of the units, the 56th RQS and 786th SFS are not strangers as they have been working together since July when they deployed to Sierra Leone, Africa, to evacuate people from the American Embassy in Liberia. There, they formed a great team and in exercises like this, they continue to refine their operations together.
“Our primary job is combat search and rescue,” said Captain Henderson. “The evacuation out of Africa showed that we could do other things. We have capabilities that other aircraft don’t.”
Taking lessons learned from the deployment to Sierra Leone, Capt. Jason Beers, operations officer, 786th SFS, part of the 86th Contingency Response Group, said this training is an outgrowth of the Liberia team with the 56th RQS.
“One of our group’s missions is Combat Search and Rescue bed-down. The first time we did that was in (Sierra Leone),” Captain Beers said. “That mission opened our eyes to some capabilities that they have, and it opened their eyes to some capabilities that we have. We realized in Africa that we were a pretty good team.”
Security forces members received valuable training on fast-roping, rappelling, rope ladder and parachute drops from the helos during the exercise. They also practiced live firing with the PJs, which is something the PJs can’t train on in Iceland.
“It’s definitely the best training outside of traditional security forces I was able to get,” said Staff Sgt. Matt Thompson, operations, 786th SFS member. “Fast-roping and jumping from helos is something a traditional cop doesn’t get to do.”
Speaking about the relationship with the 56th Rescue Squadron, Sergeant Thompson said they learn a lot from them.
“We get to see how the PJs and the helicopter crews work and we get more familiar with the helos. Just the training we get to do utilizing the helicopters is awesome.”
Both units are set to participate in a NATO CSAR exercise, called Exercise Clean Hunter, in June.