An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Testing the Waters

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes
  • 920th Rescue Wing

Located along the Space Coast, 920th Rescue Wing Airmen are surrounded by water. For aircrew, having the knowledge and skills necessary to survive unanticipated water landings and/or other episodes where rescue may be required is paramount.

The responsibility of ensuring aircrew are properly trained and equipped for any water survival situation falls onto the 920th Operations Support Squadron who relies upon their Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Specialist and Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) Technicians.

A Greek Soldier and poet, Archilochus once said “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” “With that statement, that’s why we train in an environment that’s as realistic as possible.” Said Tech. Sgt. Jarod, 920th AFE technician.

In order to provide that ‘real world’ type of training, AFE and SERE tested the waters in a bay area that opens into the Atlantic Ocean. This provided an environment closer to what they would encounter, to include jellyfish, various sharks and other marine life.

“Providing dunker training and water drags out of a pool will not provide aircrew with the same level of skills that they receive during open water training. Such as a Live Water Hoist with an HH-60 helicopter,” said the AFE technician.

After an in-depth overview of the training equipment aircrew was about to rely upon and show their knowledge, they donned safety gear and headed into the brisk water for parachute, under water egress, and raft survival training.

Parachutes pose a significant drowning possibility, and/or can drag aircrew if wind gets caught in the parachute canopy. This is where aircrew go over the different techniques for front and back drags. To simulate this scenario, each member wore a parachute harness and was attached to the back of a jet ski with a tow cord, and then rapidly pulled for a few seconds.

An additional parachutes risk can occur if the material lands on-top of the member in the water, obstructing their view and significantly decreasing their ability to breath. To combat this, the SERE instructor explained that the best way to quickly get out of the life or death situation is to lift both arms to create small air pockets and then feel for stitching (suspension lines) beneath the gores/parachute panels. This stitching can be used as directional guides to escape canopy entanglement.

Once aircrew completed the emergency parachute drag and disentanglement scenarios, they then needed to hone their living at sea skills to effectively and quickly get recovered.

Another unique element for the recent training was the life raft portion. This was the first time aircrew were able to be introduced and trained on new life raft. Most of the time the life raft packed up and stored. The raft training visually and physically introduced aircrew to the various types of rafts and kits that they may come across. There are rafts for an individual and there are others that can hold up to 20 people. Aircrew also use this as an opportunity to dig into their kits and utilize the different components that help with their basic needs such as Medical/Health, Sustenance, Navigation/Travel, Personal Protection, and Signal/Recovery.

As this training was close to completion, the wing launched two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters to head to where the Water Survival Training was being held. The Special Mission Aviators inside the helicopters were able to practice locating and hoisting water logged aircrew to the safety of the helicopter.

Instruction culminated with the aircrew practicing helicopter egress training within a Shallow Water Egress Training (S.W.E.T.) Chair and Survival Egress Air (SEA MK-II) breathing device. Instructors flanked the cage and took turns flipping the trainees seated inside into the water so they could practice escaping from a downed and rolled helicopter.

“We’re extremely pleased with the training and the new location,” said Master Sgt. Bon, SERE Specialist. “Our next goal will be to take this exact training from the bay and into the open ocean.”

Air Force rescue is the only DoD entity specifically organized, trained and equipped to conduct personnel recovery operations into hostile or denied areas as a primary mission.

Based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, the 920th Rescue Wing is the only Air Force Reserve Command that trains and equips Airmen to carry out its mission to plan, lead, and conduct military rescue operations and missions to deny competitors and adversaries exploitation of isolated personnel.

The 920th Rescue Wing comprises 23 subordinate groups and squadrons, including three geographically separated units; one at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, one at Portland, Oregon, and one at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

*Editors Note: Last names have been omitted for operational security.