Finally, the sound of helicopters overhead, gunfire and explosions in the direction of the enemy, the sight of friendly forces streaming out of their transports. The wait has been excruciating, communication aggravating, every moment punctuated by the hope of rescue and the fear of capture. But now the running, hiding and waiting are done. Salvation is finally here. Salvation in the form of helicopters with “MARINES” painted on the side.
This may sound like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, but in reality it is the scene Capt. Rasheed Bakkar faced as he was evacuated from the desert of Twentynine Palms, Calif. during a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) training exercise as part of the first Integrated Training Exercise, Jan. 20, 2013.
Bakkar was placed in a remote location a few kilometers from his simulated downed aircraft between the allied and enemy positions. There he waited until proper extraction could come for him.
A TRAP exercise is the process of rescuing a pilot and securing his aircraft should he be downed in a location far from his home base, whether it is in a hostile area or not. This process begins with finding the pilot utilizing unmanned aerial drones equipped with cameras and, depending on the aircraft, radio equipment. The pilot attempts to guide allied forces to his location if radio communication is possible.
After the stranded personnel is located, fixed wing attack aircraft protect the surrounding areas as troops deploy from helicopters to secure the area while the pilot is brought aboard the aircraft. Once contact is made with the downed pilot, his identity is authenticated to ensure the correct person is being retrieved.
Marines will never leave one of their own behind, and this exercise is the embodiment of that practice.
“The U.S. is never willing to give up one American citizen, one U.S. armed service member for any reason,” said Maj. David Slay, the MAG-13 future plans officer and a native of Escondido, Calif. “Anywhere the (Marine Expeditionary Unit) goes to, a TRAP is ready to be done at a moment’s notice.”
In operations as recent as the conflict in Libya, where the Marines of the 26th MEU rescued Maj. Kenneth Harney from his downed F-15E Strike Eagle, the effectiveness and importance of the TRAP can be seen.
“Being able to bring back our crew members who are down-field is absolutely priceless,” said Capt. Rasheed Bakkar, the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 flight officer from Seattle.
Practice makes perfect, and nothing deserves perfection more than the rescue of a fellow Marine.
“If we don’t train for it then we can’t expect to be ready for it,” added Bakkar. “If I was down there, knowing the Marines coming for me have seen this before and done this before makes me very confident that they will be able to pick me up in a timely manner.”
Bakkar, who has now walked in the shoes no pilot wants to wear, echoes the sentiments of every aviator.
“I would never want to be out there in an actual hostile environment,” stated Bakkar. “But I’m glad I’ve had the training. If it was Iraq or Afghanistan, I would be hoping and praying someone would come pick me up.”
And as Bakkar returned home with an escort of dedicated brethren, it was clear that should the need ever arise, his prayers will be answered.