News: Pedro trains to fight forest fires
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Marine Transport Squadron 1 conducted training Oct. 6 to prepare its pilots and crews for fighting fires in Eastern N.C.
The squadron’s helicopters, affectionately known as Pedro, provide search and rescue support for the service members of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and citizens in the local area, so the squadron personnel have to be able to perform at a moment’s notice.
According to Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Smith, staff non-commissioned officer in charge of search and rescue with VMR-1, the Marines can’t go on missions without specific qualifications even after their initial training.
“New personnel come from the school house, and they only have a basic understanding of their duties and responsibilities,” said Smith. “We pretty much have to start from scratch. We have a two-week ground training program that we put them through.
“The initial syllabus consists of required reading about search and rescue functions, familiarization with the aircraft and rescue devices, tactics, techniques and procedures used,” Smith said.
Before arriving here for their first duty station, VMR-1 Marines must attend the Naval Aircrew Candidate School, the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape School, the H-46 Organizational Level Mechanic’s Course, and the H-46 Plane Captain’s Course. They are then a basic crew chief, and after initial squadron training can attend an additional school to become a rescue swimmer.
The squadron trains regularly with the local Coast Guard as well.
The commander of the Coast Guard Sector North Carolina, Capt. Anthony Popiel, said he appreciates what VMR-1 has done with its well-trained crews.
“VMR-1 is a fantastic resource,” said Popiel, “The big bonus is that they have the hoist capability, [emergency medical technician] capability and rescue swimmer capability. We very much appreciate the fact that they are always available and willing to help. When they’re not conducting a mission, they’re training, and that means more eyes on the water. That’s another level of maritime security.”
Pedro has a policy to keep one helicopter and one crew ready at all times in case a call comes in for any emergency, military or civilian related.
“The closest Coast Guard air facilities are in Elizabeth City, N.C., and Charleston, S.C.,” said Smith, “We bridge that gap between those two.”