PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Practice how you play; a phrase used by coaches all over the world to emphasize the importance of being ready to execute the right play at the right time. Like a member of a sports team, every Airman plays a part in the overall success of any mission.
It’s also the reason the 41st Rescue Squadron (RQS) and 41st Helicopter Maintenance Unit (HMU) traveled to Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., from Aug. 15-24, to participate in a spin-up exercise, where they were challenged with scenarios and situations they may encounter downrange.
“It’s awesome; this is why we do the job,” said Capt. Chris Piascik, 41st RQS flight commander. “To be here with all my brothers and sisters getting ready to deploy and just focusing on flying is exactly why I joined and exactly why we’re here.
“Flying with the guys (you’ll) actually deploy with and learning more about each other (helps you) find a way to be more than just a collective group of pilots and SMAs,” Piascik added.
The 41st RQS houses HH-60G Pave Hawk’s, an Air Force rotary-wing rescue asset which is used in response to combat search and rescue or natural disasters. During missions, pilots, SMAs and pararescuemen must all work together seamlessly.
“Everyone has to be on the same page and understand what everyone else’s roles and responsibilities are,” said Piascik, who has piloted for five years. “You have to know what to expect from everyone else and be sure they can accomplish their job, just like you’re trying to accomplish your job. You do that by training and setting up these unfamiliar situations in these unfamiliar places. You prepare yourselves, test yourselves, and see what you need to work on to be better before you actually deploy.”
The pilots practiced efficient launches, tactical maneuvers, plotting map points and touching down in unfamiliar landing zones. While the pilots fly, the SMAs practice firing the M2 machine gun from various distances, heights and positions, and lowering rescue equipment to pick up simulated survivors.
As a seasoned pilot and flight chief, Piascik said he has to make sure his crew has everything they need to be successful. That includes Senior Airman Nick Baumgartel, 41st RQS SMA, who is training to deploy for the first time.
“Everyday-training is different than spin-up training,” said Baumgartel. “We’re going hard out here with no breaks really, just like we would downrange. Here at Patrick with the ocean nearby it’s a change; when we train we want to get something that we’re not used to. The ranges here are less restrictive and that’s definitely more fun for us … getting the full experience of the .50 caliber (M2 machine gun).”
While the pilots and SMAs ensured they worked well in the sky, maintenance professionals ensured the HH-60s were ready to get them there. This meant performing techniques at a pace some Airmen have yet to master.
“A few Airmen haven’t experienced this yet,” said Staff Sgt. Bradley Simmons, 41st HMU crew chief. “For a few of them (it’ll be) their first deployment, so we walk them through everything and then we get a chance to let them loose down here to make sure they’re comprehending and they can perform. ”
Maintenance Airmen kept all of the HH-60Gs configured for the aircrew to jump in and launch, but being in a new environment presented new challenges.
Since they flew over the ocean salt became a factor. The crew had to rinse it out of the engines and off the exterior; in addition to checking for discrepancies, refueling and reconfiguring so the aircraft is ready for the next launch.
“I hope (my Airmen) get a good idea of what to expect,” said Simmons. “We’re in a different location, doing different things and it keeps you on your toes. (My favorite part about being maintenance is) the pride in it. I know I fixed that aircraft and I know it flies. I know what it’s doing and it’s possibly involved in saving a life, which is pretty cool.”
Saving lives is the primary goal for everyone involved in the rescue mission and this spin-up exercise allowed pilots, maintainers and SMAs alike to practice how they’ll play.
“We know all the distractions that come with being at home station,” Piascik added. “When you can bring everyone down here and focus only on flying, we can be the best pilots, SMAs or maintainers (we) can be.”