News: Recovery teams train to return downed aircraft to safety
Story by Jennifer Andersson
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Soldiers of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade performed a full-scale rehearsal of a downed aircraft recovery Sept. 24-28 at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"It's to train the soldiers to recover an aircraft in a combat zone, if an aircraft goes down for any reason," said Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Galicia, the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion's command sergeant major.
The DART's response time depends on the circumstances, the weather and the urgency of the mission.
Galicia said if an aircraft has mechanical issues and must land in a relatively secure, friendly area, the mission would not be considered as urgent as one that was shot down.
However, if the aircraft goes down in an area where enemy is present, the team must wait until they can get in safely to complete the mission, said Staff Sgt. Brenden MacDonald, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the DART training.
When it comes to getting an aircraft back to safety, timing is significant.
The DART mission is to initiate action within minutes of helicopter damage. The best way to perfect that is to train.
"We break it down into battle drills," Galicia said. "The mission is so critical and time is of the essence. It has to be done with military precision. The soldiers have to be trained to the level where it becomes muscle memory. It becomes so automatic that knowing each other -- knowing how to communicate -- is [key]."
The team is comprised of experts, each with a specialized role in the recovery, including security, defense operations and repairers who are trained specifically for the type of aircraft to be recovered.
The first DART member on the scene is the technical inspector.
MacDonald said the TI must do an assessment of how much damage the aircraft has sustained. This assessment determines what is required of the rest of the team.
If the TI decides the aircraft is flyable or can be fixed right there on the ground and then flown back, the DART members will grab a pre-staged kit for the type of aircraft that went down.
The TI may decide the wreckage is bad enough that the team cannot repair it. If the aircraft is not repairable to fly back safely on its own, it must be extracted by ground or by slingload.
"If it's in pieces and it's not worth recovering, it's the commander's decision whether he wants to destroy it in place or recover it in pieces," said MacDonald.
He said if this is the case, they will call in the explosive ordinance disposal team to reduce the wreckage to rubble.
Whether the aircraft must be razed or raised, response time can be consequential. The speed in which the downed aircraft is returned to safety comes down to muscle memory, communication and teamwork, all of which are fostered by training.
Galicia said he was extremely impressed with how well his 563rd ASB soldiers work seamlessly with soldiers of the 3rd, 4th and 7th battalions of the 159th CAB during the training exercise.
"We can expect nothing less than the best from these soldiers," Galicia said.