MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- Frequent, tough, realistic training helps maintain the prowess demanded of America’s expeditionary force in readiness. Marine Transport Squadron 1’s search and rescue members train as often as two or three times a day to be ready in case they have to jump into action.
VMR-1’s SAR unit conducts training ranging from rappelling from its HH-46E Sea Knight helicopters to search and rescue exercises. During a SAR-X, VMR-1 rescue swimmers, crew chiefs and their SAR medical technicians face difficult qualification tests. They conduct training in forests, open plains and over water. The scenarios include rescuing downed pilots and open-ocean medical evacuations. These rescues force the team to use all the skills they train to maintain.
“Search and rescue is so dynamic, and there are so many different skills utilized to successfully complete a mission,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class John H. Nelson, a SAR medical technician with VMR-1. “There are so many skills we have to maintain, so one day we will conduct hoisting, the next we’ll conduct boat hoisting training, where we lower our team down to a boat to medevac an injured person, and then the next conduct a SAR-X.”
VMR-1 constantly tries to entice new Marines and Sailors to join its ranks in order to maintain mission capability, but not everyone has the skills needed to become a search and rescue team member.
Marines of any rank or military occupational specialty can come be a rescue swimmer, said Cpl. Kyle B. Smith, one of only three qualified rescue swimmers in the entire Marine Corps, all of whom are assigned to VMR-1.
“We have very few qualified crew members right now,” said Smith. “We need to keep these people’s training up to date to maintain mission readiness and ensure success within our unit.”
Search and rescue missions are high-stress situations that can cause some people to lose their cool. The team with VMR-1 said their training helps them mentally prepare for their missions.
“Keeping a clear mind is the most important thing,” said Smith. “If you’re not in the right state of mind, you’re going to start forgetting about safety. When you have someone hanging outside of an aircraft and you forget about safety, people are going to get hurt. The last thing you want to do is hurt someone while you’re trying to rescue them.”
The Marines said they know their success or failure literally dictates whether or not people live or die.
“We train every day to ensure the success of every search and rescue mission we get,” said Nelson. “During training exercises, we do everything we can to push our Marines to learn their job and perfect it. When you are dealing with a real-life situation, you don’t have time to lose your cool. Someone may die because you weren’t functioning correctly.”