Key to survival: Realistic training for Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When boarding a commercial airplane, it is routine to hear a stewardess inform passengers on what to do in case of an in-flight emergency. Passengers are shown pamphlets and given briefings about oxygen masks, bracing techniques, exits and flotation devices.


If a military aircraft goes down, however, aircrew members and other Airmen must instinctively know what to do to survive and return home safely, and the only way to make this knowledge instinctive is practice.


With this fact in mind, members of the 911th Operations Group here recently conducted survival training at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. This training was held August 17-20 to fulfill a bi-annual requirement for aircrew members and to refresh Airmen on life-saving actions that must be taken in case of an emergency.


“You prepare for the worst and hope you never, ever have to use this training,” said Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, commander of the 911th Airlift Wing. “But it could be the key to saving your life.”


Survival training was divided into two days, one each for water and land. Airmen got to practice actions such as parachute disentanglement, surviving in a 20-man life raft, and using land-based escape and evasion techniques.


In the past, trainers had relied on outside help from Navy instructors. This time, the majority of the training was given by 911th AW aircrew flight equipment members.


The training was held at NASKW rather than locally to make the training more valuable, said Van Dootingh. Because a plane would be more likely to go down in salt water than fresh water in a deployed environment, the location made the experience much more realistic.


“Airmen were in the ocean and experiencing the salt, currents, waves, wind, sun and heat,” he said. “The training [at NASKW] was far superior than any other place I’ve had it in over 30 years of service.”


The location was also valuable for the variety of training, said Lt. Col. Brian Hood, who is an aircraft commander here and was the designated mission commander for the training.


“The facilities and capabilities are much broader there,” said Hood. “There was plenty of room to spread out without interfering with anyone else. We were guaranteed to have all the land and water space we would need.”


For Airman 1st Class Michael Bishop, an aeromedical evacuation technician here, the most beneficial part of the training was not the practice or the equipment, but the extensive teamwork involved.


The blend between a realistic experience and teamwork with fellow Airmen made this training memorable and valuable for trainees, agreed Hood.


“You’re training for combat with the Airmen you’ll deploy with,” he said. “A stressful scenario like this builds camaraderie and teamwork. It teaches you to rely on one another.”