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SERE: ROLLOUT! Hueys support training

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nick J. Daniello
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Wind thrusts downward chopping the air, creating a grassy wave kicking up weeds and dirt. Loose articles of military uniforms flap in the wind as instructors and students stand against the force produced from the propellers of the Iroquois helicopter.

A clunky metal object with three opposing prongs drops from the helicopter, lowered with a winching system blowing in the airframes downdraft until it touches ground and falls to its side.

"Mount the recovery device, loop the straps around your body and give the waving arm motion" said the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist. "Don't forget to drag your legs."

Hand filled with metal, secured with a strap and a flailing arm giving the flight engineer the 'good-to-go' sign.

The student is hoisted, simulating an isolated personnel being rescued.

Helicopters are more than likely the main rescue asset for isolated personnel if they require extraction in a permissive (no immediate danger) or non-permissive (immediate danger) environment. For hoist training at Fairchild, the 36th Rescue Squadron provides the helicopter and hoist platform for a hands-on experience for both SERE specialists and combat survival students.

"We need to make sure the students have a notable interaction with the helicopters," said Maj. R. Tyler Rennell, 36th RQS assistant deputy of operations. "If they've been exposed to the recovery device, rotar wash, noise, the feeling of hurrying up and knowing what it's like to be lifted into the air, then that's 98 percent of the solution for rescuing isolated personnel."

Rennell went on to say a lot of the time it's the students first interaction with a helicopter. It's there first time around and inside of one and hopefully gives them some appreciation for something not many people in the Air Force get a chance to experience.

A student in the course, who wished to remain anonymous, was noted saying "within no time at all we learned how to use different recovery devices and actually get hoisted into the helo. I've never even been within 10 feet of an actual helicopter. I'm more prepared now in knowing what to do and when to do it to effectively be hoisted out of an environment, if I do indeed become an isolated personnel one day."

After their initial experience with being hoisted students will not see the helicopter again for a few days, not until they learn how to properly vector rescue forces.

Combat survival students are able to direct helicopters and simulated rescue forces to their location amongst the thick brush of trees and bushes of Colville National Forest by constructing a ground-to-air-signal, or GTAS, and using a compass and radio.

"I was very nervous the first time, especially after watching other students go first," said Senior Airman Blake Hollingsworth, a loadmaster assigned to the 700th Airlift Squadron at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. "They do exactly what you say while vectoring them."

Hollingsworth went on to say it made it more nerve racking how willing the aircrew was to follow their every instruction.

"If they give us an incorrect heading then we'll go to that incorrect heading, said Rennell. "It gives the students immediate feedback."

If students are located at a good vantage point they can see and hear the helicopter as it approaches their position, all from reading a compass and relaying the information into a radio.

"There's nowhere else they get to do this, allowing the ground crew in this particular way, to control the aircrew."

The rescue squadron's mission is not limited to hoist and vector training. They also provide support for SERE parachute operations, upgrade training for SERE specialists, a platform for medevac and are capable of performing civilian search and rescue operations.

According to Rennell they provide static and military free-fall for the instructors to maintain their certifications and proficiency.

"We have around 20 people who assist the jumps," said Rennell. "Static-line is around 1,500 feet and around 10,000 feet for military free fall."

To date the rescue squadron has performed 689 saves during civilian search and rescue operations out of Fairchild.

[This is part four of a six part series covering the men, women and mission of the 336th Training Group]