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Army, Navy practice personnel recovery in Gulf

By Sgt. David Beckstrom, U.S. Army Central

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KUWAITI NAVAL BASE, Kuwait (Feb. 10, 2016) U.S. Army Central Soldiers partnered with Sailors from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 during a search and rescue exercise in the Arabian Gulf, Feb. 2. The units tested their ability to cooperate in a joint personnel recovery effort during a downed aircraft scenario.

The exercise put the Soldiers in an isolated state, using a carefully controlled environment to ensure their safety, while still making the training as realistic as possible, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Metoyer, the brigade aviation mission survivability officer with 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade. The unit simulated an UH-60 crew that crashed in the Arabian Gulf.

In preparation for the mission, the crew from 1-140th Aviation Regiment trained on the operation of survival radios, signaling equipment and life raft procedures in both dry and pool training. The crew needed to deploy the life raft and climb in while properly maintaining their equipment during the pool training.

"We familiarized ourselves with the equipment and the procedures we will use in the simulated emergency with classroom and practical exercises," said Sgt. Angel Ortiz, a flight crew instructor with Company B, 1-140th Aviation Regiment. "This allowed us to understand all facets of the mission."

The 1-140th Aviation Regiment worked with a ship from the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, the U.S. Army Vessel Corinth, to transport the isolated crew to the training site. Squadron 26 sent an MH-60S Seahawk to act as the rescue helicopter and hoist the crew out of the water.

"Not only are the people in the downed aircraft portion of the training doing their piece, the 1-140th Aviation Regiment worked with the Navy and other Army units to complete the training," Metoyer said. As the units work together in a training environment they will be able to synchronize their efforts better in a real world scenario.

The Squadron 26 helicopter arrived at the training site and the rescue diver, Petty Officer 3rd Class Marvin Masa, dove right in. He ensured that the crew in the life raft were safe and then assessed which Soldiers would be hoisted out first.

As Masa swam back and forth from the life raft to the hoist rig of the Seahawk, the people in the raft were blasted by sea spray from the helicopter's wash.

"Once the helicopter got there, it was more intense than I had anticipated," said Ortiz. "The spray from the helicopter hurt my face and after I was connected to the hoist I started spinning much faster than I thought I would, but the feeling of relief of being pulled into the Seahawk was awesome."

The military uses training exercises as a way for unit commanders to gauge the readiness and capabilities of their Soldiers. USARCENT uses consistent training, like this exercise, to polish tactics and procedures, allowing its units to remain ready and responsive for future missions.

"We normally focus our training on our flying abilities, but training for the worst-case scenario is just as important," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Douglas Martine, a pilot with Company B, 1-140th Aviation Regiment. "We are conducting a lot of over-water training to help our pilots and crews understand how mission tactics and procedures are different with the potential of a water landing."

When personnel recovery missions are done effectively, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Being familiar with the equipment and procedures needed in a water rescue allows units to react better in a real-life scenario, said Martine.

"This is not something that the military wants to be reactive to," Martine added. "Planning ahead and having this training will make real-life rescues easier and more efficient."