NEWS | May 8, 2008

JTF-Bravo aviators fly casualty evacuation mission

By Tech. Sgt. William Farrow Joint Task Force-Bravo public affairs

Army aviators from Joint Task Force-Bravo, contributing to a regional disaster exercise May 6, landed their helicopter on a 3,000 foot high mountaintop in the outskirts of San Salvador while transporting rescued civilians to awaiting emergency vehicles.

Flying a UH-60 Blackhawk, the JTF-Bravo crew set their helicopter on a site used for the search and recovery portion of Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008; a U.S. Southern Command and Salvadoran Ministry of Defense sponsored exercise.

Once the Blackhawk set down amid ruins of a collapsed coffee factory destroyed by earthquake more than seven years ago, local emergency response personnel loaded two "injured" civilians and two medical emergency personnel for a five-minute flight to San Salvador where an awaiting ambulance transported the "patients" to a hospital for treatment.

For the Blackhawk aircrews, familiarization flying within the region is one of the most important aspects of their participation during Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008.

"In the event does happen and we're called upon to help out, we have to execute the mission safely and quickly," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Emile Eckart, a Blackhawk pilot with 1-228 Aviation Battalion.

A Blackhawk pilot for three years, Mr. Eckart has been assigned to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, for 10 months and supported operations in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He said this is first time performing a casualty evacuation, and the exercise allows him to gain experience through realistic training. 

He said the challenge presented by training situations, like a high-altitude landing zone crowded with civilians, emergency personnel and various rescue workers working among the rubble, make operations quite realistic for JTF-Bravo's aircrews.

"This region is a very diverse flight environment and JTF-Bravo pilots have been called upon to fly missions through mountainous terrain day and night, and even been called upon to land on ships," Mr. Eckart said. "When we train like this, we begin to understand what we can expect and we become better prepared for these situations."

Air Force Maj. Jason Clark, JTF-Bravo deputy director of operations, said that participation in multi-national exercises is key to honing the JTF-Bravo capabilities of deploying to unfamiliar locations, setting up of operations and quickly participating in relief and rescue efforts.

"Anytime we can deploy and start operations from a location different from Soto Cano, we gain experience and improve our capabilities so that when real disaster strikes, we are as efficient as we can be" he said.

Major Clark said a main objective of Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008 is promoting and improving interoperability among the regional and inter-regional organizations, which leads to more focused humanitarian response and disaster relief assistance from civilian and military agencies.