|More than 70 reservists and active duty service members from three units participated in water survival training at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, Sept. 14 - 18.
Service members from the 301st Fighter Wing here and its geographically separated F-22 unit, the 44th Fighter Group at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida., teamed up with the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick AFB, Fla., and Naval Air Station Key West Base Operations, Key West, Fla., to provide this training.
"This training is a combat training requirement that keeps pilots deployment-ready," said Master Sgt. John Gibson, 301st Operations Support Flight Aircrew Flight Equipment.
During the five-day water training spearheaded by AFE, pilots learned how to escape parachute entanglements, use a signal mirror to reflect sunlight up to 50 miles away and survive on a one-man life raft.
"Out there, they learned longevity, ways to increase their chances of survivability and how to use their equipment properly in a real-world training scenario," Gibson said. "This also helps our AFE members to sharpen their skills by getting real hands-on training."
While the pilots learned how to disengage their parachutes so they aren't drug under water, the PJs honed their particular skills as well.
"We're going to hoist them up out of the water and deal with the dangers and procedures that come with that," said Master Sgt. Blain Morgan, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescueman jumper attached to the 920 RQW. "There will also be a medical exercise where we extract an Airman, evaluate him and treat him as necessary. It's a good experience for everybody."
This type of combat training is required every three years and there is also a 180-day equipment training requirement. For some, this was a necessary refresher. For others, this was a first-time experience.
"It's an opportunity which our young guys have never seen and they get academics on it, but until you're actually in the water with the helicopter beating down on you ... it's an eye-opening experience," 301st Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Robert Buchanan said. "It's great training for everyone and a great chance to come together both as a wing and as the Reserve."
This exercise provided the unique opportunity for all participants to demonstrate the individual training they have learned and apply it in a total force integration hands-on training effort.
"There's a definite synergy in joint training because you bring together so many different experiences and training expertise," Col. Brian Neal, 44th Fighter Group commander, said. "The training we're going to garner this week is going to be unmatched. It's going to be exactly like (what) they might encounter, should something unfortunate happen."
The goal is to continue with this total force training setting and keep it as realistic as possible.
"There are some things you can simulate and some things you can't," Buchanan said. "If we are going to train like we are going to fight, here's the one chance where we can actually go out, perform the training, get picked up and rescued. So if it comes down to it, in wartime, we're ready to go."