The afternoon sky was still and silent just before a thunderous HH-60G Pave Hawk landed thrusting 100 mph winds. Out jumped three pararescuemen assessing possible threats in all directions as they headed to aid an injured member of a friendly force.
The 38th Rescue Squadron and 823rd Base Defense Squadron recently wrapped up a three-day training exercise at Avon Park Air Force Training Range, Fla., designed to prepare for missions downrange and to familiarize with each other’s operations.
“They operate with more people,” said Capt. Michael Vins, a 38th RQS combat rescue officer. “Their standard crew is maybe 12 to 15 guys in their squad, whereas we operate with six at the most. So we have different mindsets on tactics. With this larger force when we work together, we can actually keep moving toward targets and keep going toward more dangerous threats. A lot of the times our tactics are different from that. We’re such a small group, it’s almost like we’re evading as soon as we hit the ground.”
The differences in size and tactics didn’t stop them from completing objectives, but there was much to be learned by both units on each other’s ways of getting the job done.
“The biggest difficulty is assuming they know how we operate and us assuming we know how they operate,” said SSgt. Rachel Nelson, a 823rd BDS squad leader. “Then when a scenario kicks off, you realize your guys are operating on two different wavelengths. We’re more ‘ground and pound’ and they’re thinking totally different.”
Nelson also added how the units blended and overcame their differences to grow.
“It’s pretty awesome to see the different dynamics of everything and recognizing that there’s so much out there that we don’t realize we have to our use,” she said. “You get really great ideas from working with these other guys with different tactics and different procedures.”
The units have trained together at their home station, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., but never in such a large-scale capacity. Avon Park training range, located nearly 300 miles from Moody AFB, allowed them the time and space needed to execute much more detailed missions.
“Out here, there are less people; there are less assets,” Vins said. “It’s easier to schedule longer periods of range time. There are so many people at Moody trying to use the range. Grand Bay is right there, but the A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs) need it; the C-130 (Hercules) need it – whereas down here, there are more areas to choose from.”
The exercise included various scenarios over a 12-hour span each day and encompassed mission planning, flying to the area, executing objectives and reconstitution phases.
Members of the mission planning team, or white cell, used every resource they had to make the training as comprehensive as possible.
“The (scenarios) we’ve completed are what we’d call ‘complex casualty evacuations,’” Vins said. “That’s the mindset we had going in – to present these complex missions that weren’t just ‘go in, get the guy and leave’. It’s go in and then figure out, ‘Hey, maybe we have to move 500 meters to a different spot, or maybe we have to extricate him from a vehicle. Maybe we have to dive for this guy.’”
BDS defenders also shared similar views on the training’s depth and intensity.
“We’re actually approaching an entire scenario,” Nelson said. “We’ve got people firing at us, we have somebody captured and we have to think about our resources, one of them being the PJs who are out there to assist us.”
According to Vins, the battlefield Airmen played a very vital role to mission success and did a lot to assist the PJs as well. When deployed, the 38th RQS is often embedded with ground forces, and training with the 823rd BDS prepared them for what to expect when operating with those troops.
“They are a very good player as far as a ground piece,” he said. “We work a lot with the Marines and the Army downrange, and these guys mimic that player very well. I think they’re getting training out of it too as far as their improvised explosive device procedures and calling in medical evacuations.”