Search and Rescue: Taking survival skillsets to new heights

U.S. Air Force members from the 563rd Rescue Group forward deployed to Camp Navajo, Ariz., from Jan. 24-28, 2022, to complete cold weather survival training while implementing agile combat employment by operating and flying out of a contingency location at a higher elevation of about 7,100 feet.

Various HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrews from the 55th Rescue Squadron flew from Davis-Monthan AFB to Camp Navajo to perform simulated civilian and combat search and rescues. Afterwards, they would set up camp for the night in a harsh environmental setting and executed Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training led by a SERE specialist from the 48th Rescue Squadron.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph Kurtz, 55th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk Pilot, sets up a tent at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Jan. 24, 2022. Members from the 55th RQS executed agile combat employment by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated arctic environment in preparation for potential real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)

“Primarily, we’re here to fly the HH-60 in a mountainous, cold weather environment,” said Capt. Forrest Schaffer, 55th RQS HH-60 pilot, and exercise coordinator. “We’re also living and operating out of a contingency location containing a more difficult survival element in our austere environment that we don’t normally train in.”

The purpose of this CSAR and SERE training operation was to further equip 55th RQS personnel with skillsets to survive in any type of situation they might encounter while downrange.

“We are training in an arctic or subarctic domain in preparation for potential peer-on-peer warfare,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Collett, 48th RQS SERE Specialist. “It gives the crews experience to bed down their aircraft and survive for 24 plus hours before they would need to move on to another forward operating location.”

Not only did this training refresh the aircrews’ SERE training, but it also gave the pilots an opportunity to perform more advanced maneuvers and rescues at higher-than-normal elevations.

“One of the unique things about flying helicopters here is that we can land pretty much anywhere,” said Schaffer. “In conjunction with the ACE construct, we’re able to set up a campsite we can operate out of essentially wherever we can land and employ that combat capability to be able to operate our rescue mission.”

This training further prepared the 55th RQS members to adapt and overcome obstacles, despite physical elements that might blockade them from executing their rescue missions in combat.

A U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrew assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron performs a simulated civilian search and rescue at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 24, 2022. The purpose of this training was to give 55th RQS aircrews experience with cold weather, high elevation rescues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron demonstrate cold weather survival skills at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 27, 2022. Members from the 55th RQS executed agile combat employment by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated arctic environment in preparation for potential real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Air Force Capt. Gannon McDonald, 55th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot, sets up a survival shelter at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 27, 2022. The 55th RQS completed agile combat employment training by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated artic environment and completing high elevation search and rescue scenarios to posture themselves for the next high-end fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
A U.S. Airman assigned to the 563rd Rescue Group is being hoisted into an HH-60G Pave Hawk as part of simulated civilian search and rescue training at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 26, 2022. Members from the 563rd RQG executed agile combat employment by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated arctic environment in preparation for potential real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
A U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrew assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron performs a simulated civilian search and rescue at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 27, 2022. The purpose of this training was to give 55th RQS aircrews experience with cold weather, high elevation rescues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron gather wood at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 25, 2022. Members from the 55th RQS executed agile combat employment by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated arctic environment in preparation for potential real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 55th Rescue Generation Squadron perform post-flight inspections on an HH-60G Pave Hawk at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 25, 2022. The 55th Rescue Squadron forward deployed to Camp Navajo to refresh their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training by performing agile combat employment in a high elevation, austere and arctic environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
A U.S. Air Force pilot assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron performs post flight inspections on an HH-60G Pave Hawk at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 25, 2022. The 55th RQS completed agile combat employment training by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated artic environment and completing high elevation search and rescue scenarios to posture themselves for the next high-end fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Tech. Sgt. Jean Vega, 55th Rescue Squadron Special Missions Aviator, hoists a survivor into an HH-60G Pave Hawk as part of a civilian search and rescue simulation in Flagstaff, Arizona, Jan. 25, 2022. The 55th RQS forward deployed to an austere location in high elevation to perform simulated combat search and rescue missions in arctic like environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron set up a tent at Camp Navajo in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Jan. 24, 2022. Members from the 55th RQS executed agile combat employment by living and operating out of a contingency location in a simulated arctic environment in preparation for potential real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlyn Ergish)

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