Approximately 50 Air Force Reserve Airmen from the 943rd Rescue Group deployed for training to the East Coast for joint operations July 31 to Aug 12.
The group included three HH-60s and their accompanying maintenance crews; air crew members, including pilots and special mission aviators; aviation resource management specialists; intelligence analysts; 306th Rescue Squadron Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape (SERE) specialists; logistics and plans personnel; aircrew flight equipment; and other support functions.
While there, they flew 17 sorties in upstate New York and Vermont, including Lake Champlain, and worked with fellow Airmen and Soldiers from the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
“It went extremely well,” said Lt. Col. Paul Anderson, 943rd Rescue Group chief of standardization and evaluations, a seasoned rescue pilot of 21 years. “We got some good combat search and rescue training using the Situational Awareness Data Link radio and integrating with sister services.”
Flying and operating out of terrain completely different from the open desert of Arizona, where the group is headquartered at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, this training allowed those new to the unit and those who have been flying rescue missions for decades to experience new environments that prepare them for real-world operations.
“I got to do live hoists for the first time,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Roberts, a brand-new flight engineer who has been at the 305th RQS for only a month and is in upgrade training. “Daytime water ops were really cool – I haven’t actually hoisted someone before. It felt good, like you’re actually doing your job.”
During two of the combat search and rescue training flights, the team worked a complex, joint scenario in which one helicopter imbedded an F-16 pilot from the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, with two 306th RQS SERE specialists. They also imbedded U.S. Army “opposing forces” from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, NY, with military police and a military working dog; and an Air Force joint terminal attack controller and air liaison officer from the 20th Air Support Operations Squadron. The pilot, who was role playing as a crash survivor, had to evade the “opposing forces” and their working dog while two other HH-60s flew the rescue mission accompanied by four Michigan National Guard A-10s from the 107th Fighter Squadron, 127th Wing. The A-10s communicated with the “survivor” and provided (simulated) close air support to the helicopters, while the flight engineers extracted the pilot using a forest penetrator.
“Any time you can train with the Army or other services makes it easier for the times you have to do it real-world,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Flake, a veteran 305th RQS flight engineer with 26 years of experience and 14 real-world combat deployments. “The A-10s out of Michigan don’t have a chance to fly with helicopters often, so coming out to train with people who don’t have rescue assets close to them is really helpful.”
The 305th RQS and two SERE specialists spent another day of the trip training with military K-9 handlers from the 8th Military Police Detachment, 91st Military Police Battalion, out of Fort Drum, NY, hoisting six military working dogs and their handlers into and out of an HH-60.
“Dog hoisting was my favorite part [of the week],” said Tech. Sgt. Trevor Stevens, a 943rd Rescue Group standardizations and evaluation NCO. “When we’re deployed, we might have to do something like that. If we or they aren’t familiar, [real world] is not the best time to have to do it for the first time.”
All of these flying training missions would not have been possible without the dedicated work of the behind-the-scenes support personnel who coordinated airlift; ensured orders were correctly written; planned the missions; and launched and recovered the aircraft and accompanying personnel, ensuring they had the correct gear to be safe and effective.
“The magnitude of this kind of training mission is far greater than what most people see, which is these amazing aircraft flying over land and water accomplishing a search and rescue mission,” said Lt. Col. Sherard Dorroh, 943rd Mission Support Flight commander. “It requires a full complement of specialties and people in critical support roles, and the fact that we can pull it off shows that the men and women of the 943rd Rescue Group are absolutely the best at what they do.”