San Diego, CA –
SAN DIEGO – Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 Chief of Naval Operations Search and Rescue Model Manager (SARMM) oversaw a joint agency search and rescue personnel recovery event off the coast of Southern California, Jan. 19-20.
In addition to HSC-3, the mass casualty simulation involved service members assigned to HSC-8, HSC-23, Coast Guard Sector San Diego, and crewmembers assigned to the Air Force 445th Airlift Wing. During the evolution, nearly 40 U.S. Air Force C-17 Airmen from the 445th Operations Group's 89th Airlift Squadron, 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and 445th Operations Support Squadron were recovered via hoist to MH-60S Seahawk helicopters.
“We saw it as a really great opportunity to not only integrate with the Air Force, but also to tackle some of the challenges in terms of large-scale maritime personnel recovery operations; things that have real world application,” said Lt. John Dunne, representative from HSC-3 SARMM and officer in charge of the event. “This is something that has never really been done before.”
According to Capt. Cecelia Photinos, C-17 Aircraft Commander and Aircrew Flight Equipment Officer for the 445th Operations Support Squadron, the evolution was an extension of Air Force 445th Airlift Wing’s annual tour and training requirements. Every year, the wing visits Naval Air Station North Island to complete open-ocean survival, evasion, resistance and escape
(SERE) training. This year, the team had the opportunity to receive hoist training in the most real-world setting possible.
“This flyaway exercise provides our squadrons with an excellent opportunity to complete C-17 flying check rides, aeromedical training, real-world water and combat survival training as well as courses such as tactics, communications, intelligence, first aid, etc,” said Photinos. “Joint exercises such as this are a great opportunity for the services to improve and ensure readiness while working together as we would in real-world scenarios. Previously, our water survival course had been performed in the base pool or a nearby lake without support from the USN and/or the USCG. The addition of their support through helicopters, hoists, rescue swimmers,
etc. is absolutely invaluable to our readiness as an Airlift Wing.”
Providing transportation for nearly 40 personnel to the open ocean where the simulation would occur was no small feat, and in addition to SARMM’s surface support, SoCal Maritime Transportation and Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted in transporting the USAF personnel to the site.
USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard St. Jean performed responsibilities as coxswain during the evolution and had similar sentiments to those of Dunne and Photinos. “Conducting joint operation exercises like this one strengthens our relationships with our partner agencies, keeps our crews sharp and allows us the opportunity to teach Coast Guard search and rescue
practices,” said St. Jean.
“We have two search and rescue capable services right across the bay from each other,” added Dunne. “With the Air Force, we’re building relationships geared more towards the tactical wartime hostile environment to show them that we can do this with them.”
“Joint training is crucial for operability and professional/tactical development,” echoed Photinos. “Understanding joint operations through real-world training such as this evolution allows us to be more understanding and effective as leaders while building reliable relationships
within the services.”
Both days of the evolution were successful, and all training objectives were met.
“The biggest thing is shifting the mindset, of getting out of our comfort zone and train to real world, and making the training as realistic as possible because you get so much more out of it,” said Dunne. “Which I think is something as a community is starting to shift and we need to keep doing that because not only are we shifting mission sets pretty drastically, but we need to actually have realistic training; putting live survivors in the water and utilizing the equipment. Making it as real world as possible so that we can train like we fight.”