March Airmen respond to helicopter crash

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163rd Security Forces Squadron courtesy photo

RAMONA, Calif. — Seven ‘Grizzlys’ from the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing responded to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash at Ramona Airport on the evening of January 20, 2015. The Airmen, all from the 163 RW’s Security Forces Squadron (SFS), provided assistance in securing the accident scene and preventing disturbance of the wreckage.

The National Guard’s motto, ‘Always Ready, Always There’ was fully on display that night. Required response time is up to 12 hours, and these Airmen were geared up and on site within three, said Master Sgt. Donald Hedge, 163 SFS.

“Our members are very motivated and eager to put their training to use in real world situations,” Hedge said. “We’re always ready to support the mission at hand and respond quickly during domestic emergencies anywhere in California. We stepped up and reacted as we’ve been trained.”

“I was at home when I received a phone call from my unit,” said Airman 1st Class Armando Biloki, 163 SFS. “My initial reaction was excitement, because this is what we train for as first responders and it would be my first emergency response.”

Security Forces secured the crash location, giving Biloki some valuable experience.

“It felt meaningful to be part of it. It also felt hair-raising because I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Biloki said. “I’m the type of individual who prepares for the worst so there’s room for de-escalation. In the end, I was just glad no one perished from the accident.”

Two Army Guardsmen, a pilot and co-pilot, were onboard the Blackhawk when it came down on its side. They escaped without serious injury.

“We are all California National Guardsmen, regardless with what service we are affiliated with,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Gatewood, 163 SFS, referring to the teamwork between the Air Guard and Army Guard components. “We both have different skills that can augment one another and make us both better. They do stuff better that we can learn from and we do things better that they can learn from. It’s an important partnership.”

“I feel that the mission was a great way to showcase what the 163 SFS is all about. Not a lot of people understand Security Forces capability sets,” said Gatewood. “We are seen primarily as gate guards, but securing and defending an area is our business and we were given an opportunity to show our state leaders, our peers and the public that we do that very well.”

Ramona Airport was reopened days later, once wreckage from the UH-60 was moved for transport to Los Alamitos Joint Training Base. The 163 SFS’ role in the response went off without a hitch.

“The 163 SFS was just grateful to be in the position to help out our California National Guard brethren,” said Lt. Col. David Cramer, commander, 163 SFS, and also the first in the unit to arrive on scene. “Be it the citizens of California or a sister service, a need is a need, and that is what the Guard does — it responds when needed.”