NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Airmen from the 99th Force Support Squadron conducted a Casualty and Search and Recovery Team Exercise May 6 near the flightline here.
Search and recovery teams, mortuary affairs, as well as other units under the 99th FSS were tested on their ability to properly respond to a scenario in which a C-17 Globemaster III mishap happens in the Nevada desert.
“Nellis conducts a high abundance of sorties throughout the year,” said Robert Jones, 99th FSS Manpower and Organization chief. “That being said, it is important for our teams to be ready at a moment’s notice should any mishap in the area occur. A quick and effective response has the potential to save lives.”
Not to be confused with members of the combat search and rescue teams who enter combat situations rescuing service members from behind enemy lines, Airmen from the casualty search and recovery team are tasked with recovering human remains and identifying wreckage from crash sites to help with mishap investigations.
During this exercise, simulated body parts were scattered and buried throughout the desert to give a real life feel to a worst case scenario. Members were asked to assemble at the wreckage point and conduct a thorough search of the area to identify and label any debris that would help investigation teams and body parts that would help mortuary affairs identify casualties from the simulated crash.
“This was the most realistic exercise we have done in a search and recover perspective,” said Staff Sgt. David Reckling,” 99th FSS services specialist and SAR team member. “The fake body parts and small wreckage helps give the team some experience searching for items that don’t immediately pop out at you.”
Organizer’s decision to use the desert instead of the usual flightline setting gives the exercise a new element of realism according to Jones.
“The Nevada Test and Training Range is an exceptional spot for this exercise because of its similarities in landscape to Afghanistan,” Jones said. “It helps our teams build a better situational awareness to what they should be looking for in terms of terrain and attention to detail.”
“Normally we conduct exercises such as this one on the flightline, which gives our teams an easier training experience due to the easily contrasting and distinguishable items laying on the flat surface,” Reckling said. “This time is unique because it forces the teams to actually get down and search for the items. That way they are better prepared if something happens, and we have to do this same mission in Afghanistan.”
The exercise also gave new SAR team members an opportunity to train on proper procedures and execution of their new responsibilities.
“Most of our team is new,” Reckling said. “This training at the very least gets them integrated into their new job responsibilities and partners them with experienced casualty search and recovery team members if they have questions.”
According to Jones, this exercise will not be the last. He hopes that more SAR exercises will be held in the future to ensure each team member stays current in their training.
“We want our members properly trained to provide the best recovery they can,” Jones said. “If you practice and scrimmage in the most realistic way possible, then should a mishap actually happen, we will be prepared for it. That is the goal.”