Military News

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Centurions, PJs conduct joint casualty exercise

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

5/14/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- It was 2 p.m. April 30 as a four-vehicle Army convoy rolled out of its forward operating base to deliver a high value target to a secure location. Any convoy in a deployed environment can be a dicey affair, but this one in particular had personnel on high alert.

From a hidden knoll in the distance, a terrorist watched as the convoy approached a carefully hidden improvised explosive device. He let the first vehicle pass before detonating the device. Reacting with practiced precision, Army personnel went into their defensive positions as the enemy opened up with small arms fire. Medics
began treating the injured as infantrymen established security, but it soon became
clear one of those priorities was going to suffer if they couldn't get out of there fast.

High overhead, a C-130 Hercules was circling with a contingent of highly trained Air Force pararescuemen. Within minutes of their Army brothers being pinned down, the PJs were free falling through the air, tactically deploying as close to the action as possible. Upon arrival, they were met with the chaos of war.

A smoky haze obscured the battlefield and the staccato of gunfire could be heard as bullets began whizzing by their position.

Fortunately, the bullets clipping tree branches around them were simulated munitions and the scenario was a training exercise on rangeland at Joint Base

Elmendorf-Richardson designed to integrate the Army and Air Force's combat  asualty
care capabilities.

"This was an opportunity to do a number of things," said Tech Sgt. Benjamin Westveer, 212th Rescue Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape  pecialist.
"We wanted to get to understand the Army and how they work. This is the first time we've done this with them. The secondary part is those are the types of people the rescue squadron would actually recover in the deployed environment. It was a good
opportunity to see how the Army operates," Westveer said.

Staff Sgt. Sonny Carlos, 212th RS pararescuman, was one of the PJs to get to experience the joint training.

When we got there, it was chaos, as usual," Carlos said. "That's what war is: chaos,
but you try to control it. Imagine yourself in an environment where a close friend has
been blown up. Your mind is not correct. That's what we're there try to help
with that. Everybody in the military naturally wants to help and do what's right, but it can be difficult in those circumstances." After infiltrating and establishing their position, the PJs, under the direction of their team leader, quickly formulated a plan and began to execute it.

"Our first priority was determining a total number of patients to make sure we're not missing anyone," Carlos said. "Once we had that, we worked on getting them all to a casualty collection point."

Westveer led a team of opposition forces designed to test the mettle of joint servicemembers.

He and his team waited until the PJs were treating patients before opening fire from concealed vantage points with simulated munitions.

"Once we started taking fire, our immediate focus changed to returning fire," Carlos said. "That's how you're going to save lives: take over the objective and make sure you own it, so that way you're not going to be picking up a patient and then get shot in the back." With the Army personnel and PJs working in tandem to repel the ground attack, Westveer's team found their combined skill a force to be reckoned with.

"I never heard anybody lose their head when we attacked them," Westveer said. "They didn't lose control. They stayed with the situation and pushed us out and made the right calls. It as difficult to engage them directly. I know I got hit with several sim rounds, which is exactly what we hoped would happen."

Army 2nd Lt. David Hildon, leader of the evacuation Platoon of C Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, saw the training as invaluable for his Soldiers.

"Coming in, we knew what the PJs did in broad terms, but in terms of integrating tactics, techniques and procedures, we were able to practice those technical things that will ultimately be key to saving lives," Hildon said.

While the exercise went smoothly, there were also some lessons learned, Westveer said.

"We learned some communications issues and how to make sure we prep better," he said. "That's exactly why we're doing this. We're doing it so we can understand each other's limiting factors and how to overcome them."

Running into cross-service challenges during the exercise was something Hildon expected his Soldiers to face.

"It's good to practice these things now before it happens in real life," Hildon said. "There were some hiccups, but we expected that. Normally, in the Army, we use a crawl, walk, run methodology.

"These guys, special operations, they're already running. We're good at what we do; however, we haven't worked with them in an environment like this. We all learned quite a bit and that's the whole point."

According to Carlos, the joint training is critical because it's functional.

"How do we work? How do they work? What do we do differently?" Carlos said. "Maybe they have something they do better than we do or vice versa. Each branch is always trying to achieve that goal of bettering themselves and being better than the enemy. Seeing different perspectives is a huge help." Both services came away from the fight feeling better prepared
for real world application of integrated TTPs, and each had nothing but positive words on the other's behalf.

"The more you practice, the more you realize the importance of practice as you learn lessons along the way," Hildon said. "We're grateful for the opportunity to train with them and I'm  really proud of my guys and the great job they did."

Carlos had equally high praise for the Soldiers.

"Everybody takes their job seriously," Carlos said. "Working with them, we expect their top performance and that's what's given. I thought it went very well."

While this was the first time this type of exercise has happened on JBER, Westveer, one of the event organizers, said it won't be the last.

"It was phenomenal," Westveer said. "It's become much more critical as drawdowns happen in the active duty and [National] Guard. We have to cover each other more. We are different branches and operated differently, which is alright, but we need to understand how each other operates.

"This is the type of thing we need to keep doing, pushing for that joint integration, training with each other. We have great opportunities at this joint base to accomplish that," Westveer  said.

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