Combined forces prepare 128 ARW aircrew members for combat, water survival

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jenna Hildebrand
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing
"Hudson River, 2009. Who can describe the situation in which a civilian aircraft ditched over water?" asked Master Sgt. Adam Becker, an Aircrew Flight Equipment Survival Instructor from the 128 Air Refueling Wing.

"Plane took off, two engines failed because they hit a flock of geese. Since they couldn't make it back to the airfield, they put it down in the Hudson," recalled 1st Lt. Christie Kjornes, a KC-135 pilot at the unit.

"Situations like this can happen at any time and our aircrew needs to be prepared to take action in emergencies. It's necessary that they stay current in their survival training, whether it be in combat or peacetime, on land or over water," said Becker.

Aircrew Flight Equipment members of the 128 ARW conducted Combat and Water Survival Continuation Training for pilots and boom operators June 2, 2012 at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee.
The unit integrated the help of the Milwaukee Fire Department, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and F Company, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment of the Army National Guard to assist in training.

As 18 aircrew members listened to the  AFE instructors teach about floatation equipment, survival kits and sustenance and water procurement, they recalled what they have been taught throughout their careers. The survival training is given annually by AFE instructors to enhance the aircrews' knowledge from Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape courses. The aircrews' understanding of the information will be vital if they should ever experience a real emergency or survival situation.

After survival courses were taught in the morning, two Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters arrived as air support for hoist training. Aircrew members were taken out into Lake Michigan by boats from the Milwaukee Fire Department and Coast Guard Auxiliary. One at a time, the aircrew members jumped out of the boat into the lake to simulate a ditched aircraft scenario, in which they would be rescued from the water. Assisted by AFE diver instructors, the aircrew members swam into the clear water. A force penetrator, the rescuing device attached to the hoist, lowered toward them from the hovering aircraft. Once they were secured, a vigorous thumbs-up signaled they were ready to be hoisted out of the water.

"This training was very valuable to us because we do a lot of training simulation with just a 200-pound dummy and it's the same mechanics but you don't have the pressure and stress of hurting a live person," said Army company commander Capt. Randall Ramm.  "So this is really good for us. One: we don't do it over water very often and two: any chance we can get to do live lifts is good because it puts the real element in the training we do."

After the hoist recovery training, aircrew members were brought back to the shore to dry off and continue the day with vectoring training. Plumes of orange smoke filled the air in front of Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge as civilian bystanders took in the excitement. Aircrew members were instructed to use flares for smoke signals while calling in air support. With the help of the Army helicopters following radio communication, the aircrew members stated headings, called roll outs, and directed the aircraft to mark the spot were they would be evacuated.  The Black Hawks made several passes over the lakefront marking each of the aircrew members' positions.

At the end of the training, the aircrew members admitted to the instructors that they mostly enjoyed the real experience of being in the cold water because it was tough and a real challenge.

Senior Master Sgt. Shane Loomis, an AFE instructor said, "You just can't simulate what they actually did. They experienced the physical and psychological effects of being dunked in the water and having to get rescued."

The 128 ARW deploys their aircrews and planes around the world. Because of training like this, Loomis says that they integrate seamlessly with active duty components.

"This was a great example of inner service. On a city scale, we may really have to do this. Now we've already planted the seed and experienced how each other operates. We all have a better idea of what each branch does and what their role is," said Loomis.

As the training was completed for the day, the Black Hawks flew over the Milwaukee skyline headed back to home station. 

"I think that this was good for Milwaukee to see their tax dollars at work and doing something good," said Ramm.  "I'm a taxpayer as well. There were people taking pictures and coming up to ask questions with smiles on their face. Having them watch us do good things with their money and their equipment is a good outcome. We're all valuable assets."