California Air Guard Participates in RIMPAC Rescue

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. David J. Loeffler
  • 144th Fighter Wing
In a truly multi-service, multi-national exercise a fighter pilot from the 144th Fighter Wing (FW), Fresno, Calif. was inserted into a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) exercise during the 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

RIMPAC is an exercise that dates back four decades and provides a unique and dynamic training environment in which multiple nations can exchange ideas and train together with the primary mission of securing open sea lanes and protecting maritime lines of communication.

The scenario started with the F-16 pilot being blindfolded, then taken to an isolated training location on a remote part of Kauai, Hawaii and was given some basic instruction and provisions.

"We were provided with the standard Air Force survival vests with basic survival provisions: signal mirror, water packets, camo face paint, a compass, a new type of survival radio called a Combat Survivor Evader Locator (CSEL), matches, and a survival knife." said Capt. Robert Spencer, an F-16 fighter pilot from the 144th FW, California Air National Guard. "There were entanglements of thorny branches and vines that were virtually impenetrable and I discovered that my flight suit is especially good at snagging every thorn I passed. The rescue personnel did a great job and everyone on the radios coordinated well. The joint effort was impressive. If this happens in real life, it's good to know that there will be a team of consummate professionals on our side."

Members of the United States Navy Third Fleet out of San Diego, Calif. provided the initial instructions to the F-16 fighter jet pilot and expanded their roles by acting as the aggressors attempting to locate and capture the downed aviator.

"This is a personnel recovery exercise where we are simulating a downed aviator and we are going to observe a helicopter insert a rescue team to extract the isolated person." said U.S. Navy Capt. Dave Englehart, U.S. Navy Third Fleet. "When word of a survivor gets to the Combined Personnel Recovery Center they look to the combat search and rescue assets available and determine who is most capable to affect the rescue."

Through a cloud of red Hawaiian dust Para-rescue jumpers, or more commonly known as PJs, from the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing (RQW) emerge to locate, rescue and treat the downed pilot.

"The 129th RQW out of Moffett Field, Calif. Air National Guard deployed 2 UH-60s and approximately 40 personnel to support the RIMPAC exercise. We came here to perform personnel recovery missions and Combat Search and Rescue missions in a joint theatre with coalition partners." said Maj. Thomas Keegan, a UH-60 pilot from the 129th Rescue Wing. "We predominately worked with A-10s and our para-rescue team out of the 131st rescue squadron to go pick up downed airmen throughout the Hawaiian Islands in a simulated combat rescue mission. "

The PJs, an elite group with specialized training in rescue, defense, survival and field medicine, often confront situations where they may face environmental hazards such as dense brush, rough terrain, scalding heat and icy waters. After recovering a survivor they treat immediate medical needs and transport the survivor to the nearest medical facility.

"These guys are great at what they do." said Keegan. "They go through extensive medical training to ensure that they can provide the en route care and the emergency medical treatment that some of the survivors might suffer."

Often, in personnel recovery situations, additional support is provided in levels most will never observe. High above fighter jets from the 144th FW rip across the sky providing air protection for the rescuers below.

"A Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) is a really large force exercise. We get information from the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft which have virtually a 360 degree radar view of all aircraft activity in the theatre of operations. That information is then relayed to our pilots to provide Rescue Combat Air Patrol (RESCAP) and RESCAP keeps enemy aircraft from interfering with the personnel recovery mission. It is all about locating the downed airman and bringing him back safely." said Lt. Col. Scott Seyfarth, Project Officer for the 144th FW.