By Master Sgt. Joshua Woods, 10th Air Force Public Affairs
/ Published May 30, 2012
BARKSDALE AFB, La. -- Deep behind enemy lines, anticipation mounted as two fully loaded HH-60 helicopters approached their pre-planned drop-off point. As the helicopter blades whipped through the air above, a small guardian angel (GA) team, consisting of a highly-trained combat rescue officer (CRO) and several pararescuemen (PJs), were covertly inserted and quickly loaded into awaiting indigenous vehicles.
With little delay, the rescue team was en route to the objective, a building where a lone survivor was held captive by enemy forces. As the team began to encounter adversary fire, state-of-the-art technologies provided constant communication and tracking of both friendly and enemy positions. With enemy resistance neutralized, the rescue force entered the building and commenced a room by room clearing operation with intent to locate and rescue the survivor.
The GA team, along with supporting assets from 10th Air Force units, performed this type of combat search and rescue (CSAR) training during a four-day exercise called PATRIOT SAINT 2012 at Fort Polk, La., May 15-17.
An annual exercise, PATRIOT SAINT presented realistic CSAR scenarios, providing high-end training to the multitude of forces composing a combat search and rescue task force (CSARTF).
"PATRIOT SAINT is a low-cost, unit-driven exercise which presents challenging CSARTF scenarios to the Citizen Airmen warriors resident in our numbered air force," said Col. Bruce Cox, 10th Air Force operations director, Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas.
An exercise with scenarios including isolated personnel recovery in an urban area, downed Airmen in enemy territory and a mass casualty transport aircraft accident, the entire CSARTF was exercised to the extreme.
Participants included 10th AF units from Barksdale AFB, La., Whiteman AFB, Mo., Patrick AFB, Fla., Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., Portland, Ore., and NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas. AFRC's 10th AF aircraft participating in the exercise included the A-10C Thunderbolt, HC-130P Combat King II, HH-60G Pave Hawk and the F-16C Fighting Falcon. GA forces from the 304th, 306th and 308th Rescue Squadrons, brought CROs, PJs and survival evade resist and escape specialists to the fight.
Finally, additional forces included Air National Guard F-15C Eagles from New Orleans, La., KC-135 Stratotanker from McConnell AFB, Kan., UH-72 Lakotas from Fort Polk, La., and a Cessna 182 Skylane from the Civil Air Patrol replicating the unique capabilities resident in MQ-1/9 remotely-piloted aircraft.
Both air and ground OPFOR [Opposing Forces] elevated the training to the most realistic scenarios possible, Cox said.
Multiple GA team parachute insertions, via HC-130P aircraft, were supported by A-10s engaging enemy combatants on the ground while defensive counter air tasked F-16s providing cover from enemy fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
Capt. William Thier, a CRO with the 304th RS, Portland, Ore., stressed the importance of training in his line of work.
"We always train and then train some more," Thier said. "You can never train enough. With these joint efforts we are able to work as a team and get the training we need done."
Perhaps the most daunting training effort during the exercise was the integration of all air and ground assets, affording full spectrum personnel recovery in a contested-degraded-operational environment. With a full complement of high-tech equipment including satellite communication, advanced targeting pods and global positioning satellite (GPS) systems -- equipment largely purchased with National Guard-Reserve Equipment Appropriation (NGREA) funds -- PATRIOT SAINT serves as a unique platform for the development and validation of emerging tactics techniques and procedures utilizing high tech, low cost, off-the-shelf technologies available to the Reserve Component forces.
Every aircraft as well as the inserted GA team were equipped with state-of-the-art data-link capabilities.
"The biggest effort in the exercise is bringing everybody together and figuring out how to incorporate an encrypted data-link communication system into the CSAR environment," said Maj. Grant McCall, an A-10 pilot at the 47th Fighter Squadron, Barksdale AFB.
New to this years' training regimen was the GA modular tactical system, a lightweight vest providing friendly ground forces immense connectivity with supporting assets.
"Equipped with multiple radios as well as ROVER [Remote-Operated Video Enhanced Receiver], the MTS affords unparalleled situational awareness with video and data downlink, displaying the consolidated battlefield picture to AFRC's 'boots on the ground' Airmen," said Maj. Joseph Dougherty, 10th AF chief of personnel recovery and special operations.
"A CSAR has little kinetic [effects] if everything goes well. Having data-link fully incorporated into this training exercise allows the CSARTF the opportunity to develop future tactics," said McCall. "We were able to fine tune all assets and introduce new data-link technology into an environment where effective communication is vital."
After tactically entering the hotel's side door, the team aggressively searched each level before discovering the survivor on the third floor. With the survivor in hand, the team coordinated the pickup with the nearby flight of Pave Hawks.
Once loaded on the HH-60, an initial medical evaluation conducted by the PJs found the survivor to be in good health and extremely high spirits. Score one for the good guys!
PATRIOT SAINT provided 10th AF combat units an extremely realistic operational exercise, employing cutting edge systems within the Air Force Reserve Command's arsenal.
"Sharpening the sword of 10th AF warriors via low cost exercises is a 'must-do' in today's constrained fiscal environment," said Cox. "PATRIOT SAINT demonstrates the immense and affordable capabilities resident in today's operational AFRC forces. Train like you fight!"