Personnel recovery exercise brings rescue teams together for RF-A 16-2

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The phrase, “So Others May Live to Return with Honor” expresses the overarching goal of those serving in the rescue community and it connects a myriad of career fields dedicated to fulfilling that mission.

RED FLAG-Alaska 16-2 provided an opportunity to connect survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists, rescue squadron personnel, combat search and rescue assets, and an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot during an isolated personnel scenario June 14.

“This training gives A-10 pilots a chance to experience what an isolated person feels on the ground,” said Master Sgt. Kurtis Douge, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron personnel recovery division superintendent. “It makes them more effective as a pilot in their personnel recovery mission.”

Multiple pieces must come together to build and execute an effective rescue scenario, which is why this becomes the personnel recovery division’s primary mission during RED FLAG-Alaska exercises.

“First, we are tasked with building ISOPREPs, or isolated personnel reports, processing, and conducting all the behind-the-scenes coordination required,” Douge explained. “Our primary role is to be observer-controllers and make sure pilots are safe and scenarios are completed, but we also provide orientation training for the 18th Aggressor Squadron and training for personnel at high-risk for capture.”

In addition to ensuring safety and mission completion, SERE specialists evaluate pilots to make sure they remembered their SERE training, which is conducted every three years for Air Force pilots.

“The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps only get SERE training during their initial qualifications and then they are considered good to go,” said Douge. “For the Air Force, our pilots receive continuation training at the base level.”

During the June 14 scenario, Capt. Keli Kaaekuahiwi, an A-10 pilot assigned to the 354th Fighter Squadron out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, participated as the isolated personnel in need of recovery from enemy territory.

In the Grizzly Training Area portion of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Kaaekuahiwi explained to Douge how he would survive the initial shock and potential injuries incurred from ejecting into an unfriendly area, and then demonstrated his ability to survive off the land with the gear in his possession and evade enemy forces searching for him.

The scenario included multiple A-10s taking out enemy threats such as surface-to-air missile sites and providing close-air support for the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crew and pararescuemen who deployed to recover Kaaekuahiwi.

The final piece of the 353rd CTS personnel recovery division’s role during RED FLAG-Alaska exercises is to gather lessons learned from SERE specialists and the pilots involved in rescue scenarios during the outbrief.

“The biggest lessons learned would be to always have a plan after you hit the ground; know that if it’s a high-threat environment what your immediate actions are,” explained Kaaekuahiwi. “Are you going to be able to dig through your equipment to grab specific items or are you going to hit the ground with only what you’re wearing. Think through what you’d do with the minimal equipment to survive and evade in the specific theater that you're in.”

Lessons learned from pilots like Kaaekuahiwi help the personnel recovery division to effectively teach multi-service pilots how to conduct effective personnel recovery missions and safely bring their people home.

“At the end of the day, we want our people to come home safe,” said Douge. “This is why we exist; we do what we do so that others may live to return with honor.”