Training in the desert

Posted on December 29th in Feature Story

Air National Guard practices missions in Riley to simulate Afghanistan terrain

By Debbie Raney
Burns Times-Herald

Dec. 9, 2010, 13:00 hours — During a debriefing meeting Master Sgt. Gerald Case updated the 304th and 142nd Air National Guard Units on the current situations in the surrounding area. The squadrons were made aware of all insurgent activity, the battlefield conditions and other pertinent information.

A humvee approaches two “contractors” who called in an accident and alerted military personnel with a flare. Earlier this month, the 304th and 142nd Air National Guard Units used the Riley area to simulate incidents that might happen in combat. (Photo by DEBBIE RANEY)

When the meeting was adjourned, the soldiers readied themselves for an upcoming mission. Several of the members of the two Air Force Units made a quick walk over to the Riley Store to purchase snacks and drinks. Yes, the Riley, Ore., Store.

Forty-three members of the United States Air Force were camped in Riley for a week training in numerous search and rescue scenarios. The two squadrons who were participating in the training are based out of Portland, and are trained for combat search and rescue.

Master Sgt. Edward Peters explained why the training was taking place in Riley. “This is the type of terrain we need to train in. It’s an ideal location for every scenario we run.”

Over a week’s time, the scenarios set up for search and rescue training included vehicle accidents with a multitude of injuries, injuries sustained from enemy attacks and downed aircraft. All of the scenarios were created to mimic actual military situations that occurred in a hostile area, most from actual 304th rescues recently performed in Afghanistan.

The camp that was set up in Riley acted as base for the rescue crews. Along with the basic sleeping barracks and cook shack, there was also a tent where the planning for each day’s missions was completed. Satellite maps were used to develop “accident” sites and scenarios.

The camp also included a medical tent, complete with a simulated victim, SimMan.

The SimMan patient has realistic anatomy and clinical functionality, which is controlled through computer. The operator, Technical Sgt. Bobbi Kennedy, can create medical conditions on SimMan that are consistent with the accident scenarios planned for the rescue training. The software allows Kennedy to regulate SimMan’s breathing, pulse and temperature. In addition, it is designed to allow for CPR, bronchoscopy, needle and surgical cricothyrotomy and test tube insertion. Immediate technical feedback is available during SimMan’s rescues, which allows Kennedy to more effectively train the soldiers.

Medical training scenarios also involved real “victims.” Victims had predetermined injuries, designed by the planning team. The injuries over the week ranged from amputations to hypothermia, from broken bones to seizures.

The extraction equipment used by the rescue team resembles the equipment used by most city or county fire and rescue teams, it’s just a lot bigger and more advanced.

Technical Sgt. Ian Johnson leads the extraction team. He explained that there are always two sets of equipment ready to go — the light REDS and the Heavy REDS. REDS is an acronym for rapid extraction devise system. Depending on the severity of the situation, Johnson can immediately access what equipment is needed. The object of the extrication crew is to get the victims out and away from danger as quickly as possible. Again, the units train to be in hostile, military areas. Safety and security is at the top of each mission’s objective.

Though the units do train for military rescue, they have been called to take part in many civilian rescues as well.

The units performed search and rescue missions immediately following the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980, and provided assistance to Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The units have also provided support for space shuttle launches and to the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. The 304th saved the life of a lost climber on Mt. Hood in 2006.

On the afternoon of Dec. 9, the rescue teams were called out to a vehicle accident, about 10 miles west of Riley. “American Contractors” working in the country had come upon a wrecked Cutlass, and called in the report. Following the coordinates given, the rescue crews found the wreck and proceeded to extract the two victims from the car.

During the rescue armed patrolmen encompassed the area, all identification was verified and the accident site was made secure and safe for the medical and extraction teams. All procedures were adhered to as if the units were truly working in an unsafe region.

Back at the medical tent, SimMan had been programmed to have numerous wounds that would be consistent with a vehicle roll-over, including hypothermia since the temperature was only in the teens that afternoon.

Although the 304th and 142nd were only performing simulated rescues in Riley, both units knew first-hand that every move they made needed to be acted on as if the situation were real. There have been many times when the soldiers weren’t on a hill in Harney County, but one in Afghanistan, and the chances of enemy attack were too real.

Looking around the tent at the soldiers being debriefed on the morning of Dec. 9, Master Sgt. Edwards said, “They have been to all parts of the world. There are a lot of heroes in this group.”

2 Responses to “Training in the desert”

  1. 304th Rescue Squadron Says:

    The 304th would like to send a special thanks to Dale and Pat
    the owners of the Riley store for being such great hosts. We understand our success relies heavily on the support of great Americans like Dale and Pat here on the homefront. We cannot accomplish our mission without you. Thank you.

  2. Kristen Coombe Says:

    I appreciate this detailed and complimentary article on the 304th on their operations in beautiful Eastern Oregon. These heroes need all the support and recognition possible. Thank you for the article.

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