Soldiers Hone Skills in Personal Recovery Exercise

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When a victim is pinned beneath a vehicle in the U.S., it is the paramedics' job to extract him or her, using powerful tools. In Afghanistan, it is the Pathfinders, whether an accident involves a vehicle or an aircraft. The tools they use are the same tools used by civilian paramedics. But unlike the paramedics, the terrain Pathfinders work in is likely to be hostile.

"If an [improvised explosive device] goes off and hits a Humvee, we go out and recover the injured," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Swink, a squad leader with F Company, Pathfinders.

The combination of tactical and technical expertise makes the Pathfinders one of the most unusual units on the battlefield.

Soldiers from F Company, Pathfinders, 2-10 Aviation Regiment, Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducted a simulated extraction of a downed pilot, Sept. 26, in the Fort Drum training area.

The Pathfinders, who specialize in personnel recovery, staged themselves and their equipment on the airfield to respond in the event an aircraft went down. When they received a call that a helicopter went down in the Fort Drum training area, the Soldiers stopped what they were doing and prepared to respond.

In the meantime, leaders were discussing and planning the details of getting the Pathfinders to the crash site, extracting the pilot and bringing him or her back safely. As they waited, AH-64 Apaches launched to provide security at the site.

With the planning complete, Soldiers were directed to move out to two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which were prepared to bring the Pathfinders to the crash site. The two squads loaded themselves and their equipment, which included large cutting tools and weapons, into the helicopters and were soon on their way over the Adirondacks.

Once the helicopters landed a short distance from the simulated crash site, the Pathfinders stepped off, took a few steps and got down to form a hasty perimeter as the Black Hawks departed.

The first squad set up security around the site as the second squad made their way to the simulated downed aircraft and began extracting its pilot.

"We decide where we need to make any cuts (to the aircraft) -- if we need to make any cuts," Swink said. "Our medics will work on him (the rescued pilot)."

Once the pilot was clear of the aircraft, the medics did just that. Nearly simultaneously, a call for medevac was made, and as the Pathfinders waited for it, they improved their security around the landing zone.

Spc. Nathaniel A. Oncea, a combat engineer with F Company, Pathfinders, who just joined the company from a non-Pathfinder unit, appreciates the benefits of the training.

"It's good to be out here doing what we'll do overseas," Oncea said. "We've been doing extraction training weekly for the past two months."

The Pathfinders were called upon several times to extract crash victims during their last deployment. In the summer of 2011, a Pathfinder platoon successfully extracted a Polish soldier who was pinned beneath an overturned armored vehicle in eastern Afghanistan. It was the Pathfinders' unique skills that led to their success.

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