With a sprained left ankle, fractured collarbone and burns to his forearm, the U.S. Air Force pilot finally makes it to his feet.
He’s alone and isolated in the middle of Africa with nothing within sight except the rubble of his downed aircraft.
These are the moments; the U.S. Personnel Recovery Coordination Center (PRCC) train for, and a similar training scenario was presented to them on Oct. 31, 2021.
The PRCC at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), conducts personnel recovery and casualty evacuation for U.S. and joint partners in East Africa.
The minute someone becomes isolated and the PRCC is alerted, an invisible timer goes off, because in personnel recovery and casualty evacuation, the quicker the response, the better odds of survival.
To test that response time and demonstrate their capabilities, the PRCC conducted a full casualty evacuation exercise from start to finish. More importantly, the exercise served to examine their system for deficiencies.
With the consistent operations tempo of U.S., partner and allied forces in East Africa, PRCC members can be called into action at any moment.
“Real world emergencies happen suddenly, often without notice, so we build those types of scenarios into our training,” said Maj. Jeffrey Leversedge, PRCC director and exercise planner.
To simulate that urgency, Leversedge and exercise planners provided minimal information to the exercise participants.
“Participants were informed we were having an exercise, and given required safety information; that’s it,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Mitchell, a PRCC survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) specialist and exercise planner. “We wanted the players to have to work through problems and roadblocks in real-time.”
Personnel recovery and casualty evacuation in East Africa is a massive endeavor. It relies on the partnership of multiple countries, U.S. government agencies and military personnel from all sister services to execute.
“The sheer size of the area of responsibility for CJTF-HOA is one of our biggest challenges,” Leversedge said. “So comprehensive exercises like this are a necessity.”
The size and scope of support provided by PRCC means the missions themselves are incredibly complex. They involve multiple teams and numerous moving parts that must come together for the mission to succeed.
For example, while an MV-22 Osprey transported the pararescuemen to make initial contact and begin the recovery, a KC-130J Super Hercules with full crew and SERE psychologists waited on the flight line for possible transfer to higher level emergency care abroad.
At that very same time, Camp Lemonnier Expeditionary Medical Facility staff members and SERE specialists waited to receive the patient for higher level care, debriefing and to complete the reintegration process.
“Our job is to provide options and contingencies to isolated personnel and people in distress,” Mitchell said. “We cannot predict the situation or variables of our missions, so we try to remain flexible and have plans A through Z available if necessary.”
When isolated, adapting to surroundings and overcoming challenges directly impacts survival. Similarly, during a PRCC mission, how teams adapt and communicate determines success or failure.
“Each team has different lingo, different languages, different processes,” said U.S. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Connor, CJTF-HOA SERE psychologist. “These experiences and exercises are how we iron out those seams; it gets us all on the same page, speaking the same language.”
Recently, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 and their MV-22 Ospreys arrived at Camp Lemonnier to support CJTF-HOA operations. The Oct. 31 exercise was an important first step necessary for full integration.
“Operations at Camp Lemonnier as a deployed location are always moving and evolving,” Mitchell said. “New units are constantly departing and arriving, which can sometimes leave continuity gaps. The PRCC bridges those gaps with our training.”
The U.S. and joint partners work every day to counter violent extremists and foster security and stability in East Africa. CJTF-HOA’s PRCC makes sure those service members are never truly on their own.