SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
The first sign of trouble appeared shortly after 1000 hours. It had been more than a half-hour since the last communication with Warrior Two, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter conducting a routine training flight, and now those in Joint Task Force-Bravo's 1-228th Aviation Regiment operations center were beginning to fear the worst. Those fears were realized minutes later, when the operations center received an emergency transmission confirming the unthinkable: Aircraft down.
This was the scenario facing the members of the 1-228th during a no-notice personnel recovery/downed aircraft recovery team exercise conducted here, Feb. 4. For the exercise a UH-60 landed in a remote area outside of Soto Cano, simulating a downed aircraft with casualties and the threat of hostile forces in the area. It was up to the 1-228th, as well as elements from across Joint Task Force-Bravo, to respond. The fact that the exercise was no-notice added realism to the scenario.
"It's hard to check systems if everyone knows the exercise is coming," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. E.J. Irvin, 1-228th Aviation Regiment Commander. "Checking our systems when people don't know it's coming is a good way to find out where we need to put forth more effort for training in order to get everything up to speed. This exercise gave us a great opportunity to do that."
The multi-tiered operation required the 1-228th to execute a medical evacuation, an aircraft recovery and several other procedures.
"There is more than just recovering an aircraft in a scenario like this," said Irvin. "We're not just executing our downed aircraft recovery procedures in the tactical operations center. We're also executing the logistics side, the movement of a casualty, the personnel side for casualty notification, pulling the aircraft records on the standardization side--there are several systems that come into play that we are able to check through an exercise like this."
The exercise incorporated a Task Force wide effort, including coordination with the Joint Security Forces Squadron, the Joint Operations Center, and several other elements from across Joint Task Force-Bravo.
"There are multiple pieces besides just the aviation going on today," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brian Brady, a UH-60 pilot assigned to the 1-228th who played the role of one of the casualties in the exercise. "The Joint Security Forces arrived first on the scene to provide security; we have the Downed Aircraft Recovery Team doing their assessment, the Air Traffic Controllers working, and all the people behind the scenes coordinating and working together to make this operation happen. It's definitely a Task Force wide event."
Irvin said running the downed aircraft scenario is an important element for the 1-228th in order to maintain proficiency.
"We are coming up on a very high operational tempo period of external support," said Irvin. "It's a time when we want to make sure we are proficient in our battle drills. We haven't done a downed aircraft scenario in awhile, and this was something I wanted to do to so we could check and ensure we are firing on all cylinders so that in the event something does happen, we have the ability to respond in a timely manner."
From his perspective in playing the role of a downed pilot, Brady said going through the exercise was reassuring.
"It was great to see how responsive our people are," said Brady. "It's a good feeling to know that if something goes wrong, I can hit a button on my radio and help can get out here very quickly."
Irvin said that overall, he was pleased with how his unit responded to the no-notice exercise, as well as appreciative of how the entire Task Force worked together to support the recovery of the simulated downed aircraft and crew.
"I am very impressed with how quickly everyone responded to the exercise," said Irvin. "An exercise like this helps refocus everyone on why it is important to run through battle drill scenarios and ensure we are proficient. It doesn't matter who is out there when something like this happens it becomes a collective effort by all of Joint Task Force-Bravo to get those individuals recovered and the equipment back to Soto Cano safely."