Airmen from the 426th Air Base Squadron recently participated in training alongside rescue crews from the Royal Norwegian air force’s 330th Rescue Squadron, May 13.
Four Airmen volunteered to serve as stranded seafarers in the frigid North Sea, so the Norwegian aircrew could maintain qualifications and other local naval units could exercise rescue and survival operations.
“This exercise was premised off mutual respect and trust in our partnership,” said Maj. Kevin Catron, the 426th ABS Staff Judge Advocate. “Norway remains a very close ally to the United States and anything that we can do to further that bond and cement that relationship is an important mission of the 426th ABS.”
Airmen with the 426th ABS have worked to develop strong ties with local military units, so it was no surprise to be offered such a unique training opportunity, Catron said.
“The 426th ABS tries to build rapport and collaborate with the local Norwegian military units,” Catron said. “This particular unit, the 330th Rescue Squadron, offered up a training opportunity for those of us willing to assist in the effort.”
The exercise involved orientation and mission briefings, followed by a ride out to the raft in the North Sea. The helicopter lowered the Airmen into the emergency life raft, and then made several practice runs to shore.
“It was pretty awesome, because from where I was standing inside the door, I couldn’t see the raft below the helicopter,” said Capt. Morgan Cowle, the 426th ABS director of operations. “It was like taking a leap of faith, holding on to the harness, being lowered into a raft that I couldn’t see.”
Even though the weather was calm, the Norwegians had a couple surprises to simulate stormy conditions, Catron said.
“The downdraft from the helicopter was kicking up the water and making things pretty turbulent, but there were also two boats racing around the raft as part of the training to create large waves and spray more water over raft to simulate stormy seas,” Catron added. “It was awesome. I swear they laughed every time they buzzed our raft.”
Even though they knew it was just an exercise, the Airmen still experienced the same raw emotions anyone can have while stranded on the ocean.
“Traditionally, they will use Navy personnel who are familiar with the process and, as the pilot put it, ‘cheat by helping the engineer.'” Catron said. “With us, they saw the panic, fear and hesitation they will experience by hoisting civilians from an emergency life raft in a real life situation.”
Each of the Airmen said they enjoyed the exercise and are ready to volunteer again. Even though it was an exciting experience, the Airmen also valued seeing NATO partners in action.
“The interaction we have with our Norwegian Air Force counterparts gives us valuable insight into the similarities between us and allows us to experience each other’s cultures,” Cowle said. “Working on a NATO base, we are exposed to many different nations’ military services every day, but being able to interact and train with the Norwegian Air Force in their own element is an altogether different, and awesome, experience.”