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