News: Warhawks brush up on survival skills
Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As soldiers from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division make final preparations for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, leaders down at the lowest level continue to train the newest member of their teams.
New UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crew chiefs and door gunners from Company A, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion received classes Feb. 12 on survival techniques needed if they become stranded after a helicopter goes down.
Black Hawk pilots and noncommissioned officers who had participated in a survival, evasion, resistance and escape school were instructors for the class that involved more than 20 soldiers.
"We wanted to prepare the new soldiers for the deployment, knowing that they have never been a part of an air crew," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joey Ybarra, Company A mission survivability officer. "Aviators can still end up on the ground, so it's important to remind them of the skills they might need."
The training focused primarily on surviving in different environments, ways to evading enemy forces until the soldier or team can be extracted and radio communications between soldiers on the ground and incoming helicopters.
During the survival portion of the training, the instructors walked the soldiers through trails on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and explained different methods of purifying water using iodine tablets, fire or filters as well as the importance of conserving sweat as opposed to conserving water. Instructors also pointed out different edible vegetation to maintain their intake of nutrients.
The next portion of the class focused on concealment and evasion, where the group was split into two teams and were given a scenario to relocate their team, including simulated casualties, to various extraction points.
"It's hard to get concealment especially when you have casualties and have to carry your battle buddies around," said Cpl. Brian Foster, Black Hawk door gunner.
Junior enlisted soldiers were put in charge of the teams to get them in a mind frame of being the highest ranking person on site and to let them work on their coordination skills.
"They have to realize once they're on the ground, due to certain circumstances, the most junior soldier could find him or herself the leader of the pack due to injuries," Ybarra said. "They can be a leader regardless of their rank."
Teams worked together to build ground-to-air signals before using different buddy carrying methods to move along a wood line and avoid contact from opposing forces in the simulation.
"I thought the training was going to be easy when I first heard about it, but then I realized I was in charge so I had to multitask with making sure everyone was good and completing the mission," Foster said.
Once the teams reached an extraction point, training focused on proper communication and extraction techniques by radioing identification and authentication words to an actual Black Hawk circling the area.
"It's hard to communicate on the radio because you're out of breath, you're tired and not thinking," Foster said. "But you have to do it right because you want to get extracted as fast as possible."
Each team successfully radioed and signaled the Black Hawk to land as well as board the airframe with all personnel, meeting the final training objectives.
"I really liked their enthusiasm. They really wanted to learn more about evasion and how to help themselves," Ybarra said.