Rescue Airmen participate in readiness exercise

The 563rd Rescue Group conducted Operation Spud Smoke 2021 in Boise, Idaho, March 14-28, 2021.

“Operation Spud Smoke 2021 is a terminal employment phase exercise for the 563rd RQG,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kimberly Albanese, 55th Rescue Squadron pilot.

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman and survivor are hoisted up into an HH-60 Pave Hawk at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise, Idaho, March 16, 2021. Pararescuemen are sent to find and rescue service members who are downed or trapped in combat situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Ross).

The two-week long exercise brought personnel from numerous units including the 55th RQS, 48th RQS, 79th RQS, 66th RQS, 512th RQS, 34th Weapons Squadron, 14th Air Support Operations Squadron and Seal Team Seven.

“It’s good to have all the rescue units together in order to perform similar exercises on the Orchard range,” Albanese said. “It allows us to synchronize, standardize and compare our tactics, techniques and procedures between the units.”

The 143,000 acre Orchard Combat Training Center has multiple different ranges and 89,500 acres of maneuver area.

“The Orchard range has advanced stationary and moving targets that allow us to see how well our crews are doing,” Albanese said. “Nothing like that is available at home station.”

The terminal employment phase of combat search and rescue is the portion of the operation where Airmen are flying into potentially contested environments to rescue a survivor. During the exercise the rescue squadrons simulated numerous scenarios in which survivors with varying degrees of injury were in need of rescue.

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman from the 48th Rescue Squadron prepares to hoist up a survivor during the Spud Smoke 2021 exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise, Idaho, March 16, 2021. The terminal employment phase exercise incorporated combat search and rescue capabilities in a simulated austere and contested environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Ross).

“The TE phase involves a lot of shooting, a lot of tactics, a lot of communication, and working with teams on the ground and in the air,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Austin Burke, 55th RQS special mission aviator. “These exercises are critical to maintain rescue readiness across our community. We are a small community that has to train to a very high standard. We have to take advantage of these opportunities to work together, train together, and learn from each other because they are uncommon.”

Exercises like Spud Smoke 2021 help rescue Airmen maintain mission readiness, ensure that others may live and uphold the high standards their mission requires.

“My biggest take away from this exercise is how beneficial it can be to work and train in a new location,” Burke said. “When you work at the same training range continuously it can be hard to recognize areas that need improvement until you’re in a new environment.”

A U.S. Air Force survival evasion resistance and escape Airman from the 563rd Rescue Group pops green smoke to mark his location during an exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise, Idaho, March 16, 2021. The terminal employment phase exercise incorporated combat search and rescue capabilities in a simulated austere and contested environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Ross).
A U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron prepares for landing at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise, Idaho, March 16, 2021. The primary mission of the Pave Hawk is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Ross).
A U.S. Air Force pararescueman from the 48th Rescue Squadron prepares to drop from an HH-60G Pave Hawk during the Spud Smoke 2021 exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise, Idaho, March 16, 2021. Spud Smoke 2021 exercises combat search and rescue capabilities in a simulated austere and contested environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Ross).

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