SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
An aircraft mishap can be a confusing, disorienting situation for surviving aircrew members. Linking up with rescuers, navigating to a suitable rescue area, helping the wounded and evading capture are all primary duties in case of an accident.
For 18 aircrew members assigned here, the morning of March 20 brought an opportunity to practice these lifesaving skills in just such a scenario.
The members, who belong to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, operate day and night while assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo, U.S. Southern Command's agile response force in Central America. They frequently fly humanitarian, disaster relief, and training missions.
Each take-off represents the possibility that good training could mean the difference between life and death.
The exercise began just after dawn, when the instructor cadre, medical staff, and bi-lingual civil affairs representatives flew to the site -- near La Paz, Honduras. The medical staff stood by in case any participants sustained real-world injuries while traversing the rough terrain. The community affairs members were on hand to communicate about the training with any members of the local population the team came across.
Upon landing, the teams simulated as though their aircraft had crashed. They found cover, and began communicating with instructors playing the role of rescue forces. Using pre-determined special instructions and coded terminology, the teams established checkpoints and potential helicopter landing zones for the extraction operation.
All members traveled over very rough, uneven terrain between each point. The natural obstacles and daunting mountainsides would not allow participants to walk in a straigt line for long.
The difficult surroundings were no accident.
Such a route was needed to re-emphasize the importance of maintaining a proper course heading, according to Army Capt. Lawrence Corrado, Alpha Company commander and member of the cadre for the exercise.
"A big part of this (exercise) is getting the aircrews familiar and comfortable with the use of their equipment -- like radios, compasses, and other tools -- which they carry with them routinely in flight but rarely use because we rarely have a mishap," Captain Corrado said. "The exercise is also a good way to practice basic land navigation and medical evacuation skills, which many aircrew members may not have used since flight school."
The exercise concluded in the mid-afternoon, with all five teams returning safely to home base. Thanks to training like this, the teams stand a better chance of returning from a real-world accident as well.