SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Servicemembers from Joint Task Force-Bravo, in coordination with Honduran forces, participated in a personnel recovery exercise March 10, 2016, near Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, validating response capabilities and interoperability with the Hondurans.
The exercise consisted of a two-part training plan, involving Honduran familiarization with U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, as well as practices that would help develop valuable security skills during personnel recovery operations.
The scenario involved a simulated crash of a U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in an isolated area, with trapped and severely injured individuals. The scenario necessitated special rescue skills and equipment to help rescue the simulated victims, requiring the firefighters with the 612th Air Base Squadron Fire Department to assist the 1-228th Aviation Regiment and Honduran forces in their initial response.
"We conduct quarterly personnel recovery exercises but had never used firefighters before, so the Fire Department tested their capability to extract personnel from a wreckage," said Capt. James King, JTF-Bravo Personnel Recovery director. "That was the first time we've done that here at JTF-Bravo, so this exercise validates that they can assist with their extrication equipment."
During the rescue and extraction of the victims, Joint Security Forces personnel helped secure the simulated crash site while Honduran forces responded in a protective role, demonstrating how the two teams would integrate in a real-life scenario.
"Building a relationship with the Honduran forces might have been the most important thing that we did," said King. "If we had any kind of situation, other than a MEDEVAC, Hondurans would be in charge of conducting a recovery, so the fact that we partnered and trained with the Hondurans is key."
Prior to the rescue training, the Rapid Air Mobile team , formed by the MEDEL and JSF representatives, practiced loading and disembarking the helicopters while the aircraft were off, then running and finally during live take-offs and landings. Other practices included the hoisting of heavy equipment, as well as integrating the JSF and Honduran forces.
"We validated that the RAM team concept works and we showed the importance of needing the JSF team to be able to quickly respond to the incident," King said. "We validated that we can go out and we can transport them [Hondurans] to an incident if we needed to do that."
One of the main goals of this Personnel Recovery Exercise is precisely to test this joint operation between the 1-228th, JSF, Medical Element and 612th, as well as host nation forces, integrating with U.S. helicopters and conduct similar training with other partner nations.
"As we expand our missions into other parts of Central America, we are going to work with similar units and we have to make sure that we build that relationship and capability," said King. "If we have already exercised something similar we will be much more prepared. That is the big goal, we want to take this concept and apply it to other countries in Central America."
Exercises such as this one showcase one of many partnership efforts between countries in Central America and U.S. Southern Command, giving the countries in the region chances to learn and hone skills that have an impact on potential future operations.