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Training For The 'Highly Possible'
By Marni McEntee
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

April 3, 2004,

HOHENFELS, Germany The scenario couldn't be more relevant at a time when the military is engaged in two active combat zones Iraq and Afghanistan.

A helicopter gets shot down in a war zone, leaving four injured survivors behind enemy lines. They have to figure out how to get help without drawing attention.

"If you get into trouble, who is going to pick you up?" asked Capt. Ronald Henderson, an Air Force pilot with the 56th Rescue Squadron out of Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland.

If the aircraft is downed anywhere within the U.S. Air Forces in Europe's area of responsibility, which extends from Iceland to the southern tip of Africa, it's likely going to be the 56th, the command's only combat search and rescue unit.

That's why the 56th brought two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters to work with a handful of Germany-based Air Force and Army units to practice for that eventuality. Also on hand were two Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists to help the survivors get out of danger.

The survivors were from the 236th Medical Company, which uses Army Black Hawk helicopters for medical evacuations to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The UH-60 Black Hawk crew had never had SERE training, even though it may be called to fly into a combat zone at any time.

On Wednesday morning, the CSAR teams got their chance to play out the scenario, which was set in a realistic-looking village at the Combat Maneuver Training Center.

First, the "survivors" hiding on a rooftop radioed two A-10 Thunderbolt crews from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base. The A-10s were circling 1,000 feet overhead, looking to knock out any threat.

The training was key for the A-10 crews, who rarely get the chance to practice CSAR missions, said Lt. Col. Rick Johnson, deputy commander of the 52nd Operations Group at Spangdahlem.

"The CSAR mission requires a lot of detailed coordination to make it happen, especially if there are a lot of threats," Johnson said. The A-10s started and ended their missions at Spangdahlem, allowing them to practice air refueling as well.

The Army medics who played the survivors also got some unusual training. They learned how to use the Air Force's superior radios, which allow users to send encrypted text messages instead of voice messages over the air a safer way to communicate.

"We only have line-of-sight communication with our radios, which is not as good as the Air Force stuff," said Spc. Douglas Anderson, a Black Hawk crew chief.

Once the A-10s were sure it was safe, the Pave Hawk pilots swooped over the rooftop and members of Ramstein's 786th Security Forces Squadron slid down a rope to pull security while the survivors were rescued.

Many were the same security forces airmen who had landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone, ahead of the 56th last July. That's where the team was staged before it extracted dozens of people from the U.S. Embassy in war-torn Monrovia, Liberia, said Capt. Jason Beers, a 786th member, which is part of Ramstein's Contingency Response Group.

The chance of a similar mission in the future is "highly possible," Beers said.

Then the pararescue airmen slid onto the roof to carry the injured to safety. Meanwhile, a second Pave Hawk hovered nearby, its two 7.62 mm miniguns trained on the scene in case of trouble.

In all, the rescue took about 12 minutes, said Tech. Sgt. Brian Oldham, a SERE specialist from the 352nd Special Operations Group out of RAF Mildenhall, England.

"That was smooth. Nobody fell off the hoist. There was good communications. That's what it all boils down to," Oldham said.

The exercise continued through Friday.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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