Kentucky Air Guardsmen test survival skills at Taylorsville Lake

Story by Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Master Sgt. Clint Stinnett, a loadmaster in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, trains with a MK-124 signal flare during survival training at Taylorsville Lake in Taylorsville, Ky., on June 5, 2014. More than 120 aircrew members from the Kentucky Air Guard completed land- and water-survival training here June 5 through 7. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

TAYLORSVILLE, Ky.  — More than 120 aircrew members from the Kentucky Air National Guard participated in land- and water-survival training at Taylorsville Lake here June 5 through 7, practicing skills that could one day save their lives.

The pilots, co-pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters and flight surgeons were required to extricate themselves from parachute harnesses while being pulled through the water by a personal watercraft, demonstrate their use of single-person and 20-person life rafts, and navigate a challenging land course using maps and compasses.

Lt. Col. Nick Coleman, commander of Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron, said the refresher course, which is required every three years, is a great review of skills they all learned at U.S. Air Force Survival School, a 2 ½-week course offered at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, for all new aircrew members.

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Master Sgt. Brad Simms (left), a loadmaster in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, helps fellow loadmaster Tech. Sgt. Jerry Passafiume strap on a parachute harness prior to water survival training at Taylorsville Lake in Taylorsville, Ky., on June 5, 2014. The training also covered land survival techniques and orienteering. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

“It’s really good to get everyone out and into an environment that you would actually be in, and re-learn and refresh all the stuff that we learned years ago at basic survival training,” he said.

The refresher isn’t as in-depth as the initial course — it doesn’t include practical experience for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape techniques — but the participants still have plenty of material to cover, said Master Sgt. Del Brumbaugh, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with Kentucky’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron.

Click here to see more photos from the training.

Nine Airmen from the flight equipment section staged the training, which covered survival vests and flare signaling in addition to land navigation and water survival.

One of the devices they employed is a Hanging Harness Trainer, a large metal frame in which an aircrew member is suspended above the ground while wearing a parachute harness. It simulates what would happen if the Airman were to become caught in a tree while parachuting from a disabled aircraft, Brumbaugh said.

The exercise requires Airmen to slowly and safely lower themselves to the ground using a piece of gear in their survival vests called a Personnel Lowering Device.

Water-survival training gave aircrew members the opportunity to deploy and use life preservers and rubber survival craft such as a 20-person boat or a one-person raft. Students were then pulled across the lake by a personal watercraft to simulate what it would be like if they had parachuted into the ocean, and the tides or wind had begun to drag them across the surface of the water by pulling on the parachute canopy. Students were required to release their canopies to stop the dragging action.

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Tech. Sgt. Eric Hagen, a loadmaster in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, uses a PRC-112G survival radio with GPS during land-navigation training at Taylorsville Lake in Taylorsville, Ky., on June 5, 2014. More than 120 aircrew members from the Kentucky Air Guard completed land- and water-survival training here June 5 through 7. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

“If you don’t detach yourself in a sufficient amount of time, the parachute could actually drag you underwater and cause you lose consciousness or possibly drown,” Brumbaugh said.

The crews also practiced using pyrotechnic signaling devices such as the Mark 124, a day and night flare, which gives rescue crews a visual reference to a downed aircrew’s position. Pen gun flares, which are rocket-propelled foliage-penetrating flares, were also used. They can reach of an altitude of 300 feet to break above the tree line.

The land-navigation course was negotiated using maps and compass headings. After finding waypoints, they aircrew members came to a rally point from which they completed the last part of the course using radio communication.

“The biggest challenge for us is to add as much realism to the scenarios as we can, because the crux of our career field is that we maintain the equipment we hope the aircrew never have to use,” Brumbaugh said. “If they are using our equipment, they are having a bad day.”

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