FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The pilots of the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade endured the rigorous and challenging training for Helicopter Overwater Survival Training, commonly referred to as 'Dunker' here after completing the Aviation Training Exercise.
The 'Dunker' is highly important to any pilot or air crew, because you never know when the unexpected will happen, the training is created for worse-case scenario so the trainee learns to respond rather than react.
There are multiple stages of the training, first a swim test is conducted, then academics and theoretical injury mitigation, fatality cause factors, brace positions, use of emergency breathing device, underwater egress, and surface water survival. It is a full schedule with everything from treading water to being inverted under water learning to use a survival egress air aqualung. No doubt this is tough but necessary training.
"The training prepares the soldier with the confidence needed to not only respond to emergency situations but the confidence needed in everyday life," said Chris Judah, executive director for the program. The truth of the matter in this type of training environment is valuable and the soldiers actually take something with them, they can use -- to save their lives.
"We don't rush folks through the training. You do it right or you do it again. What we hope is that they [the student] learns and passes with confidence," said Judah. "We take the same approach on building this company, we do our own research, development, manufacturing the equipment, instructing, teaching, and evaluating. We are deeply invested in the lives of those we instruct, therefore we are heavily involved in all aspects of the process."
"Dunker training has changed immensely over the years, when I first went through in 1986, it was a 55-gallon barrel with a window cut-out and bench seating, with the only task to get out," said Anthony Dickens, site manager. The Modular Egress Training Simulator is now fully configured to any cockpit-cabin configuration. The 35th CAB pilots used two METS one was configured as a CH-47 Chinook, OH-58 Kiowa and UH-60 Black Hawk with gunner seat; the other was specifically an AH-64 Apache simulator.
"The greatest part of my job is watching the student go from fear to diploma. It's awesome to see what is in here [pointing to head] and what's in here [pointing to heart] as they [the student] get over the threshold of what is holding them back and to do something they normally wouldn't do. By far that's the most rewarding aspect of my job, watching the growth in confidence with everyone that goes through this training," said Dickens.
"This prepares you, I couldn't imagine not having this training and needing it in a real situation. If you didn't have it and needed it, you would panic. This prepares you," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Charlie Brower, 35th CAB UH-60 Black Hawk pilot. "I feel a lot better doing the first egress dives without air, you get a sense that you have more time, you build up confidence as you go."
This is training that one may not ever what to use in real life, but if they needed it, it could save their life. "The greatest success of our training, is hearing the stories of survival, that our training was utilized and we have folks live to tell their story, it doesn't get much better than that," said Judah.