943rd Rescue Group conducts maritime training exercise off California coast

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amanda Ling, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

More than 400 members of the 943rd Rescue Group along with other reserve, active duty, and joint components took over the remote San Clemente and San Nicolas Islands to conduct exercise Distant Fury Stallion, a maritime training exercise, last week.

The exercise, which took place off the coast of California, is designed to test the ability of the 943rd RQG to work within the agile combat employment construct to deploy, sustain, and execute a maritime mission as though they were in the Indo-Pacific area of operations.

“We are getting after General Brown's marching orders to ‘accelerate change or lose’ specifically in terms of rescue,'' said Col. Jesse Hamilton, 943rd Group Commander. “This is the first time for us putting together a scenario that looked like what our members would likely see in the Indo-Pacific arena. This is a closer representation of what our threat might be; working off an island, in the Pacific, jointly with the Navy.”

Members of the 943rd Operations Support Squadron constructed a forward operating base as a precursor to exercise events. Group members filed through what is called the horseshoe, a mock pre-deployment line where personnel received a mission brief, their travel orders, MRE’s, and other necessary gear, and then were taken to an open field Here personnel worked together to assemble tents and establish a secure area. Training centered around implementing the multi-capable airmen concept. No matter an airmen’s job, all were required to augment security forces for FOB defense and receive training on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC).  

At an adjacent hangar Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear or Explosive (CBRNE) training was conducted. Airmen were given a review of symptoms of exposure in chemical warfare and defending against CBRNE threats as well as an overview of alert color levels, force protection condition levels and corresponding mission-oriented protective posture gear level and procedures appropriate to each scenario. They then inspected their M50 gas masks and Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear. Participants were presented with scenarios which required different levels of donning all their gear while executing perimeter checks of the assigned area. The final step in the process was to appropriately remove their gear as they filtered through a decontamination line.

Three helicopter rescue teams consisting of members from 305th Rescue Squadron flying the HH-60 Pave Hawk, pararescuemen (PJ) from the 306th RQS, and two maintainers from the 943rd Maintenance group, along with two security forces Airmen established a forward operating site (FOS) on San Nicolas Island, 440 nautical miles from Davis Monthan AFB.

The Pave Hawks flew out to the island without stopping, by enlisting  the aid of the 39th Rescue Squadron, HC-130J Combat King II from the 920th RQW at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla. who performed HAAR, helicopter air-to-air refueling with the HH-60’s. In-air refueling increases the flight time of the HH-60’s by double with each refueling, therefore extending their range and maximizing their mission capabilities.

“The FOS is designed to be a temporary, unpredictable location for forward airpower projection,” said Capt. Halloway, an HC-130J pilot.

Additionally, the 39th RQS conducted an air-drop of a supply bundle which landed on the island consisting of food and water to sustain the crew for 48-72 hours. Once out at San Nicolas, the HH-60’s were refueled a second time ensuring they were fully operational and alert ready. They landed, set up individual tents, and prepared for a tasking.

“Distant Fury Stallion is the third evolution of getting the group together, including the non-traditional assets, with each time becoming more logistically and strategically involved” said Lt. Col. Chris Escajeda, 943rd Inspector General. “This time we really tested our members to see if they could go out to an Island, set up tents, sleep, and then successfully conduct a mission and they did it.”

As the scenario unfolded, the 345th Bomb Squadron from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, experienced a simulated inflight accident, where four survivors ejected the aircraft. The additional B1 bomber remained on scene until rescue assets were alerted and made positive contact with the survivors. A full combat search and rescue mission was conducted. The 79th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II aircraft flew to San Clemente Island performing HAAR on the way. Upon reaching San Clemente, the pararescuemen from the 306th RQS conducted a static-line round parachute drop into 60-degree water where their Advanced Rescue Craft (ARC), deployed minutes before, was waiting for them to be de-rigged and execute their mission.

“Doing a static-line jump into the water in full gear while working a rescue is a mission required qualification for us,'' said a 306th Rescue Squadron pararescueman. “Being landlocked in Arizona there aren’t many opportunities for us to do it. This exercise allows us to hone our skills to be ready to execute any mission.”

After being rescued by PJ’s, the survivors were hoisted into the HH-60’s and flown to a Navy ship where their injuries were treated by Corpsmen. Once stable they were flown to Miramar Marine Corp Air station. There the survivors, along with five PJs, were trans-loaded from the HH-60’s to the waiting Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) on the 39th RQS aircraft. A CCATT is a highly specialized three-person medical team that turns an aircraft into a flying intensive care unit.

“We are writing tactics, techniques and procedures as we are constructing and executing these scenarios,” said Col. Hamilton. “If nothing else, we are putting our money where our mouth is and truly getting after what we see coming down the line.”  

The 943rd RQG is one of three geographically separated units under the 920th RQW. The 920th RQW is the only Air Force Reserve Command unit that trains and equips Airmen to plan, lead and conduct military rescue operations and missions to deny competitors and adversaries exploitation of isolated personnel.