Joint open-water survival training prepares Air Force pilots

Nearly 100 Air National Guardsmen from two units completed water survival training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, San Diego, July 9 and 10.

Pilots and aircrew flight equipment technicians from the 162nd Wing, Tucson, Ariz., and the 144th Fighter Wing, Fresno, Calif., teamed up for this year’s event, making it the largest water survival exercise the 162nd Wing has held to date.

“Pilots are required to go through water survival training every three years, so the information really gets ingrained. That way if there is an emergency and a pilot has to eject into the ocean, they know how to react,” said Master Sgt. Kyle Hoagland, 162nd Operations Group aircrew flight equipment flight chief.

Each training day began with a classroom lesson covering open-water survival tactics. After the briefing, the pilots practiced a series of tasks including the parachute drag simulation, parachute entanglement and entering an inflated raft safely.

“Their raft is what is going to keep them alive, so they need to know how to get into it without popping it or losing any of their equipment,” said Hoagland.

The training day culminated with a simulated open-water rescue, by the U.S. Coast Guard. Sixty-two Airmen were hoisted out of the ocean by a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60J Jayhawk helicopter, providing a realistic training scenario for both pilots and the Coast Guard’s rescue team.

“The ocean training with the helicopter hoist is about as close to the actual experience as you can get. It’s loud, and the water spray is so powerful you can’t see or hear,” said Capt. Daniel LaCroix, pilot with the 162nd Operations Group. “I think that’s something no one thinks about. Definitely not something a Power Point presentation can prepare you for.”

The Marine Corps Amphibious Raid Branch also played an integral role in the exercise, providing water transportation, safety, and medical support. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jonathan Hernandez, high risk training instructor, said joint training exercises are vital to combat readiness.

“Deployment environments are almost always joint force, so it’s good to get an idea of how other branches operate, their communication procedures and their safety practices,” said Hernandez. “We can learn from them, they can take some ideas from us, and we just get a better understanding of how our brothers and sisters around the armed forces operate.”

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