Aircrew Survival Training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Farson
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing

Airmen from the 117th Air Refueling Wing recently found themselves in an unfamiliar land, with unknown terrain, no security and no known point or time of departure.  With all of the uncertainty, a source of food and water had to be found.  The pressure intensified when they had to avoid enemy contact.

The Airmen were conducting survival training here in the foothills of North Alabama in February.

“This training is aimed to prevent them from being abducted,” said Master Sgt. Mark Salmon, NCOIC Aircrew Flight Equipment, 117th Operations Group. “It is a survival situation that gives them a skill set to evade and resist and get back to friendly forces.”

Equipped with tools such as maps, compasses and radios, the Airmen had to navigate terrain to find a clear area for a helicopter to land and lift them away to safety.  Along the way they caught fish from a lake and learned to start a fire if the situation called for it.  Maintaining light discipline to read maps and abstaining from creating a human silhouette are important not to tip off their location to the enemy.

The joint operation aerial extractions by the Alabama Army National Guard added more realism to the training. They used UH-72 Lakota helicopters to transport the Airmen to safety.  When Airmen are in a downed aircraft situation, the unexpected emergency may make it necessary to communicate with other branches to bring them to safety.

“We simulated an aviator being down and had to be extracted by an external unit; we were that external unit,” said Chief Warrant Officer Lyle Harmon, pilot, Alabama Army National Guard. “We have to be sure to get them authenticated and make sure we are picking up who we are supposed to be picking up.”

The Airmen were responsible for communicating by radio to the helicopter to find and relay the location of a safe landing zone for extraction.  The training addressed communication issues that may arise when different military branches operate in the same environment.

“Joint interoperability is a must in today’s military,” said Lt. Col. Todd McNeal, Commander of the 99th Air Refueling Squadron. “We all speak different languages, so it lets us all understand how to better communicate and transition through those different languages.”

The scenarios encountered by these Airmen are those that happen when missions go wrong. Maintenance issues with the aircraft or damage from enemy fire could force them to land in an unsecure area.  An exercise such as this instills a skill set needed to survive and return to a safe location. 

“It’s a perishable skill and it’s good to know it,” said Salmon.  “When you need it, you want to be able to recall it instantly rather than having to think about it.”

Aircrew must participate in this type of training every three years in order to maintain this skill set and stay mission ready.