By Tech. Sgt. Adrianne Wilson, 113th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 10, 2009
NAVAL AIR STATION KEY WEST, Fla. -- The 201st Airlift Squadron of the 113th Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard, held their annual survival training at Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., March 13 to 14.
More than 40 Airmen participated in the mandatory training for pilots and aircrew members.
Although the training is required every three years, the members are on a rotation of training every other year, said Capt. John J. Campo, 201 AS training chief. "This way, if they are on a mission and they get captured, they will know what to do because they had recent training."
The first day of training began with a four-hour Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape High-Risk-of Capture/Conduct After Capture course taught by Staff Sgt. Jonathan D. McGrath and Senior Airman Nathan M. Indorf, 89th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialists. During the remaining two-day training event, they taught water survival and combat survival.
"Our people are going to restaurants and hotels in high risk areas overseas every week," said Sergeant McGrath. "They need to know how to conduct themselves in any environment. Our goal is to provide the best possible training, the most realistic training and have them enjoy the training they are going through. If I can put them in a scenario and they can learn everything they need to know and thoroughly enjoy themselves, then I've done my job."
"The airplanes are very reliable, but you never know when you're going to need a plan," said Lt. Col. Kevin Prom, National Guard Bureau A3O Mobility Forces branch chief. "You have to know the countries you go to and the history and the culture you may encounter when you're outside the wire. Know what to expect and know what to pack."
After the four-hour training, the Airmen participated in an exercise where they were dropped off in Key West with a map detailing routes of the city they were not supposed to walk. They would have to contact the simulated embassy to find out where they were to go. If they were captured by hostiles (SERE instructors and 113th Security Forces Squadron Ravens), they would be sent back to the starting point.
"You have to trust the system to work," said Colonel Prom. "The fact that you would be intermingling in a civilian population and you're not sure who to trust, you have to follow the clues to get to the helicopter and finally get to a safe spot."
"During the urban navigation phase, I learned a number of valuable lessons," said Maj. Louis V. Campbell IV, 201 AS C-Flight commander. "This is the most likely scenario any of us may find ourselves in the future. It is extremely difficult to operate as a team in this environment even with fully operational communication and navigation equipment. This points to the need to have pre-planned objectives spelled out in case problems develop at any location. The likelihood any of the crew will be able to communicate is remote, so each individual must know how they should proceed even without further direction."
Once the Airmen got to their destination they were flown to a simulated safe area by a DC Army National Guard, UH-1H helicopter. The helicopter crew, assigned to the 121st Medical Co. (Air Ambulance), flew 10 hours from Washington, to help with the training.
"The 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) is expanding our rescue hoist operations capabilities and this was an excellent opportunity to train in an open water environment," said Chief Warrant Officer Brian Gillespie, 121 Med Co. (AA) instructor pilot.
"I've never actually done the urban navigation before," said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Gallagher, 201 AS flight attendant, who has been a flight attendant for five years. "They went over it in school, but I've never had to physically do it. It's something we should definitely do a lot more of because it's more realistic."
The second day included Self Aid Buddy Care, CPR, water survival, and hand-to-hand combat training, which the Ravens taught.
The hand-to-hand combat training can help aircrew when they need to use defensive measures to protect themselves or others on the plane, said Staff Sgt. Robert Ade, 113 SFS Raven. This can also help them to remove someone who is disgruntled off of the aircraft if the Ravens are not on the aircraft.
The 113 SFS Ravens fly with the 201 AS during overseas missions. Their job is to protect the aircraft when security is needed in foreign countries.
For water survival, the participants donned life preservers and swam approximately 150 yards to a raft. They also had role players who were injured and needed assistance out to the raft.
"The water rescue was harder than I thought," said Major Campbell. "This is the first real world exercise in which I not only had to consider an entire crew's welfare but also the welfare of untrained passengers. I also had to call upon SABC techniques to treat injuries that would have been very realistic in this scenario. Thinking about what you would do and actually doing it are two very different things. This scenario allowed us to 'practice-doing' instead of 'thinking-about-doing.'
"The most important lesson learned from the water rescue scenario was the fact that many of the people in the water with us will not have the benefit of the training all crew members receive," said the major. "Non crew-members will likely be terrified and incapable of helping themselves. Bringing non crew-members on this exercise and putting them in the same scenario graphically demonstrated how difficult it can be to help people who truly cannot swim or are incapacitated."
Once they were back on land, some of the participants went back into the water and were extracted out by the 121 Med. Co. (AA) helicopter.
"When you're trying to connect [the latch] the water spits up at you, but you can't really see," said Sergeant Gallagher. "If it's at night time, you really have to feel for it."
"I didn't learn too many brand new things, but you forget when you don't do them," said Sergeant Gallagher. "I relearned the things I already know. It was a really good refresher and it's critical that we do it. Hopefully I will never need to use this training, but it makes me more prepared to suit and lead during an emergency. Anyone can read in a book and memorize, but I'm more of a hands on. I tend not to forget once I do something hands on."
Major Campbell has completed this type of training before, but never this in-depth.
"I have received numerous refresher courses at Andrews, including several real world scenarios conducted with helicopter assets and actual life support equipment," he said.
"The water training was much more realistic than even [during a civilian airline] training I received as a former pilot.
"The training has benefitted the ANG by ensuring our crews are fully trained to handle this type of emergency," said Major Campbell. "Due to the level of dignitaries we routinely carry, should we ever be called upon to use the training, it will benefit the ANG greatly to be able to document this valuable and realistic training."
Along with members of the 201 AS, a handful of pilots from the National Guard Bureau and three members of the Jamaica Defence Force Air Wing were able to attend as observers - a helicopter pilot, a fire fighter and a rescue swimmer. The State Partnership Program offers opportunities for the District of Columbia and the DCNG to interact in civil and military events with Jamaica.
"We share our best practices between each other," said Lt. Col. Marc C. Branche, Joint Force Headquarters-District of Columbia Joint Strategic Plans, Policy, Exercises and Training director. "We'll go down there and they'll come here."
"From the time planning starts until it's finished, there is training all the way across," said Colonel Branche. "It's easier to change people's mental mode when you move them out of their normal environment."
"The training gives us a better situational awareness of the actual environment that we might deal with in an emergency situation," said Master Sgt. Donald Humphreys, 201 AS aircrew training NCOIC and flight attendant. "If something goes wrong, the more you practice it, the more it becomes repetition and you tend to make less mistakes. Instead of just reading about it or seeing a slide show, you actually get the hands on. Instead of seeing the sea spray in the picture, they taste the salt in the water."