AVON PARK AIR FORCE RANGE, Fla. -- In the realm of team sports where expectations and the stakes to win are high, teams rely on continuity and chemistry to maximize their effectiveness and propel them to the top.
Utilizing a similar game plan, operating as a ‘hard crew’, a team of Moody’s HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter aircrew recently unified and flew every mission together at Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla., to enhance their Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) capabilities so they will perform at their peak when it matters the most— when lives are on the line.
“We can rehearse a scenario 99 times, but it comes down to being ready for that one time in a real-world event,” said Capt. Jesse Reynolds, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60 pilot. “We owe it to the people, whatever service they’re a part of or whatever the situation is, to (perform) at our peak. During the spin up, it’s not life or death, but downrange, it will be. We owe it to (the people we save) to be constant and always working to improve so that when we’re needed, we’re ready to perform the mission and that is our motto – ‘These things we do, that others may live.’
“The ‘spin-up’ exercise is the perfect opportunity for the 347th Rescue Group to train at our peak to perfect our mission,” Reynolds added. “The Department of Defense views (CSAR) and personnel recovery as a critical mission and (AF CSAR) solely provides this day-in and day-out. Every day, we wake up and try to perfect our mission because downrange, you can’t try to perfect it, you have to just do it.”
To optimally perform downrange, this hard crew, consisting of two 41st RQS HH-60 pilots, Capt. Jesse Reynolds and 1st Lt. Art Lomibao and two special mission aviators, Staff Sgt. David Mitchell and Airman 1st Class Lauren Cox, mobilized to Avon Park during the ‘spin-up’ to familiarize themselves with military operations in urban terrain training villages that mimics what they could potentially see in combat operations.
The advanced training hard crew concept was implemented to maximize the 38th and 41st RQS’s readiness for their upcoming deployment cycle, in which they’ll simultaneously work together to build relationships and understand each other’s idiosyncrasies, strengths, and weaknesses.
Normally, the HH-60 helicopter crews and maintainers deploy from Moody and integrate with a Guardian Angel team from a different base. This time, these RQS’s will deploy alongside each other with an already established cohesion before their departure.
“(Operating) as a hard crew is unique because unlike training at home station where you’re flying with different pilots and (aircrew members), we now have the opportunity to fly with the same people, day-in and day-out for a whole deployment,” said Reynolds. “We now get to learn each other, see how everyone responds to certain situations, and determine strengths and weaknesses which all helps us build continuity.
“By the time we’re deployed, I know what a team member is thinking or going to say because of that constant interaction and cohesion which makes us move faster, smoother and more effective in the fight,” Reynolds added.
Understanding that this synchronization takes time and practice; 347th RQG leadership implemented the hard crew system, which was invaluable for Reynolds.
“It’s important to have chemistry and interaction, and for an aircrew, this is built in two ways – in the aircraft and everywhere else,” said Reynolds. “We live in a very close knit group, the [HH-60] community is small and gets smaller when you deploy. You spend almost every waking minute with each other whether it’s playing (card games), hanging out or in the aircraft; you establish that personal and professional connection which helps you do the job better.”
For Cox, the opportunity to improve as a ‘gunner’ and be a part of a unique rotation cycle for her first deployment is special.
“I’m very excited to be able to deploy and do the mission,” said Cox. “There’s definitely some pre-deployment jitters since it’s my first time deploying. The ‘spin-up’ has helped show me what to expect downrange. The exercise has been a very valuable experience. I’m enjoying the opportunity to train with a very experienced crew that I’ll be alongside for an entire deployment and every day I’m learning from them so that I can be the most prepared.”
Much like professional teams getting ready to kick-off their regular season, these rescue operators are prepared to start their deployment. But in their season, there are no bye weeks and easy games. Lives are at stake and the margin for error is none. Instead of the gridiron, their arena is anywhere and anytime someone’s life needs to be saved; using their knowledge and bond so that others may live.