Joint SAR training tests interservice communications
Seventeen Sailors, from the Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward (CRS1-FWD), and 13 Airmen from the 449th Air Expeditionary Group conducted a joint search and recovery training exercise called “Neptune’s Falcon” in the Gulf of Tadjoura, off the coast of Djibouti, Dec. 20, 2013.
Although sister services work together daily at the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy rarely train together. This exercise gave them a chance to test communication capabilities between services.
The exercise scenario featured a person who was stranded in the ocean and needed to be rescued by CRS1-FWD Sea Ark Patrol Boats. Once rescued, the 303rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) dropped 82nd ERQS pararescuemen into the ocean from HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, so they could board the boat to assist with medical care. During the second phase of training, the helicopter pilots and crewmembers safely hoisted the stranded person and the pararescumen off the boat and back into the helicopter.
Djibouti’s dynamic and flexible environment was an important place for both services to test out their capabilities, which involved establishing radio communications between the helicopters and patrol boats, and working safely together.
Since this was the first time these two units had trained together, there were several questions that needed to be answered, such as “Can the Navy do interoperable training with the Air Force?” “Can the Riverines get a pararescuman off the boat?” and “How close can a helicopter hover over a patrol boat?”
“We answered a few good questions, and obviously we have some lessons learned that we will implement the next time we go out and do the training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sean Fisher, CRS1-FWD assistant officer in charge.
It took two months to plan the exercise to ensure that critical communications between the service members stayed as simple as possible.
“We basically shot to use plain English. We tried to avoid any brevity or service-specific jargon to make it easy as possible, and that is what we would do in a real world situation,” said Capt. Amanda May, 303rd ERQS chief of plans. “There were some (technical difficulties) with communication as far as radio, but with person to person, no issues there.”
May explained that this training was vital because they have to be able to respond to any request for assistance, regardless of location or terrain. In the event of an open-water accident, the two units need to be able to execute their task regardless of their service differences, and training is how they ensure success.
“It’s not going to be smooth, it’s not going to be pretty, but as long as it’s effective and it’s safe, that’s what we need,” May said.
The Sailors said they were excited to participate and understood how important this training was and look forward to future exercises with the U.S. Air Force.
"It was impressive to see the helicopter hovering over our patrol boat, while pararescuemen were preparing to exfil the boat to the helicopter while both crafts were moving,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Valentin De Los Santos, CRS1-FWD training officer. “It was an honor and pleasure to work with another service at Camp Lemonnier. Training with them gave us a better understanding of Air Force tactics, techniques and procedures, and paved the road for future training exercises, which will be crucial in real-world operations."