PARARESCUE reservists conduct water rescue training
PORTLAND, Oregon — Rescue reservists from the 304th Rescue Squadron here and 305th RQS from Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, conducted water rescue operations together in Portland’s Columbia River and off the Pacific Coast of Oregon May 4-7.
The squadrons — which are assigned to the 943rd Rescue Group at Davis Monthan, a geographically separated group of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida — train together on various pararescue exercises to prepare for real-world rescue operations.
The 305th RQS provided support in their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters as 304th RQS pararescuemen and combat rescue officers practiced entering and exiting the bodies of water from the Pave Hawks using various techniques. This training between squadrons is essential for the helicopter crews, PJs and CROs, said Lt. Col John Graver, 304th RQS commander.
“The great partnership between the 304th and 305th allowed both rescue units to practice terminal-area training, that being the rescue actions conducted when right near someone in need,” Graver said.
Coordination between aircrew, PJs and CROs is crucial to facilitate a successful rescue, Graver added. The aircrew determines where to best position the helicopter while PJs and CROs determine how best to save to the person or people in need of rescue.
“In cases where the helicopter cannot land, the PJs and CROs exit the helicopter using the hoist cable, sliding down a fast rope, rappelling down a rope, or in the case of being over water, dropping in from about 10 feet above water level,” he said.
In a real-world situation, PJs and CROs would assess the person in need and coordinate the method to return to the helicopter either over a radio or using hand-and-arm signals sent to the aircrew, Graver added. The methods for reentering the helicopter include using a hoist or climbing up a rope ladder. While training over both the river and the ocean are similar, each is uniquely necessary for rescue capabilities.
“These bodies of water allow for a stair-step training approach,” Graver said. “The river is a little more calm and is close to shore, yet has more obstacles such a boats, shallow water, and navigational aids to avoid. The open ocean can be rough, and training is accomplished about five miles off shore, well outside of the surf zone.”
The Columbia River is also much closer to Portland Air National Guard Base, so the 304th RQS, which does not have its own aircraft assigned, can do some rescue training there without helicopter support. With the ocean being much farther, having aerial support from the 305th RQS is instrumental for training off the Pacific Coast.
“Any time we can train in the open ocean is valuable,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Raedel, 304th RQS pararescueman. “The ocean is tremendously powerful and unpredictable. We need to have utter respect for it, we need to have the right training, the right equipment, and be able to operate in it.”
The training is especially valuable in case they are called to execute a real-world open ocean rescue operation, which is a realistic possibility, Raedel said. He said the most difficult part about the training is the ocean’s lack of predictability.
“The sea states are always changing even from the morning forecast to the afternoon,” Raedel said. “Weather that comes off the coast tends to be unpredictable makes things a bit challenging, but also makes prepared with our equipment to be ready for anything.”
Raedel and Graver said the 304th RQS enjoys working with fellow Airmen from the 305th RQS and greatly appreciates the training they receive when conducting exercises together.
“The 305th provides not only the best helicopter combat search-and-rescue capability in the Air Force, but they also provide the continuity and professionalism that help make our team better,” Graver said. “They willingly travel to our unit about four times a year, spending time away from their families and civilian employers to not only help keep our team mission ready, but to maintain the strong working relationship between our two units.”
Graver said their training was in line with 943rd RQG commander Col. Harold Maxwell’s priorities of combat mission readiness, compliance, force development and community partnerships. The 304th RQS regularly works with the local community has a long-standing history of rescues in the Portland area; they are well known as a highly dependable and capable rescue asset.
“We align our command philosophy with these priorities and provide a reserve rescue team that retains a combat capability and provides reservists with a diverse skills set,” Graver said. “Not only do we bring our necessary combat skills to the mission, but also bring skills associated with our civilian jobs and schooling. In the end, we’ll exceed all expectations and impress with you with the glowing pride in each and every member of our team.”