SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) --
Under the hot Georgia sun, six F-16 Viper pilots along with two survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists from the 20th Fighter Wing donned their life jackets as they prepared for a realistic water survival training exercise.
Teaming up with U.S. Coast Guardsmen from Tybee Island Coast Guard Station, Georgia, the Shaw AFB SERE specialists traveled 25 nautical miles offshore to simulate downed pilot search and recovery efforts.
Upon hearing “exercise, exercise, exercise, mayday, mayday, mayday” over the radio, operators contacted USCG Sector Charleston, to dispatch an MH-65 Dolphin to recover the simulated downed pilot.
“(The Coast Guard) nailed it,” said Capt. Scott Brandon, 77th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. “When I first checked in with the helicopter, he saw me from about five miles away, and the rescue swimmer was really on top of it too. They had a good attitude toward the whole thing and really seemed to know what they were doing out there, which was a good feeling.”
The joint-training exercise provided an opportunity for the two services to compare tactics, training and procedures to maximize mission effectiveness.
“We are learning from (the Air Force),” said Coast Guard Lt. James Emrich, a pilot. “We have rescued F-16 pilots that have (ejected) out over the water in the past, so it’s good to do the training now so that if we get into that scenario we know what’s going on and can do our best to help.”
Although fighter pilots must maintain water survival qualifications, this scenario allowed them to experience a more lifelike recovery effort.
“Just doing the quasi real-world scenario is really going to help us out,” Brandon said. “You are no-joke just floating out in the ocean; you can’t even see land. Your heart gets going and you start getting that adrenaline rush and you start seeing how well people are actually going to deal with it when someone is floating out there. It was good to put everyone in that kind of mindset.”
This exercise also provided an opportunity to test real-world emergency beacons, sending out a distress signal over the same radio frequency that would be used in a real-world emergency to assess response time capabilities.
“The radio and beacon we wanted to test worked which was good,” said Tech. Sgt. David Jones, 20th Operations Support Squadron SERE noncommissioned officer in charge. “No matter who goes down, if it’s a boat, a civilian helicopter or plane of some sort, they are going to be using the beacon. We not only just tested this for us, but for the rest of the Air Force and anyone else who is out there.”
Brandon said the pilots and rescue crews can bring back the lessons learned from this training and be better prepared for similar scenarios in the future.
“It’s always kind of stressful when you’re flying up there and you look down and see just miles and miles of waves,” he said. “You hear those horror stories of people who are floating for over 100 days and that’s not where you want to be obviously. For this to work really well and really quickly gives me that warm fuzzy feeling inside that it’s all going to be okay if this happens to me.”