Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Face of Defense: Virginia Tech Grads Serve Together as F-35 Pilots

By Marine Corps Cpl. Bernadette Wildes, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

PACIFIC OCEAN -- Three Virginia Tech alumni are now serving as Marine Corps aviators.

Marine Corps Maj. John Stuart, Capt. Evan Slusser and Capt. Andrew Thornberg fly the F-35B Lightning II out of Iwakuni, Japan, with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121.

Flying with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp during Spring Patrol 2018, all three participated in this year’s historic first operational deployment of the F-35B with a MEU.

The 31st MEU, based out of Okinawa, Japan, is a forward-deployed, flexible air-ground-logistics team capable of accomplishing a wide range of military operations in support of U.S. Pacific Command.

“The fact that three of us end up being pilots in the Marine Corps who end up flying the F-35 [and] end up in the same squadron in Japan -- the chances are pretty wild,” said Slusser, from Prince George, Virginia.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also known as Virginia Tech, is located in Blacksburg, Virginia. The school’s maroon and orange are proudly worn and never forgotten by the Hokies of Virginia Tech.

Remembering Virginia Tech

“It’s just beautiful out there,” Slusser said. “It’s in the southwest corner of Virginia in the mountains. You get all four seasons. You get snow, you get summer. You get the best fall of anywhere on the planet, and the springtime’s not bad either. The school and scenery are beautiful.”

Slusser played soccer and majored in international studies with a concentration in global politics.

Thornberg said it’s unique to have the Virginia Tech community all the way on the other side of the world in Japan. They even get together to watch the games on TV.

“When I think of Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, I think of home,” said Thornberg, from Fairfax, Virginia. “I’m very grateful to the Virginia Tech community. It has shaped my life and made me who I am today. I will always be a Hokie at heart.”

Thornberg, who graduated with a degree in international studies, played lacrosse and was a part of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, an all-volunteer, student-run organization that provides emergency medical services to the university community. As a member of the VTRS, Thornberg was a first-responder during the tragic April 16, 2007, school shooting that claimed the lives of 32 Virginia Tech students.

Stuart was a member of the Student Engineer’s Council and the Virginia Tech Motocross Club. He has a degree in industrial systems engineering.

“Virginia Tech didn’t just feel like home; Virginia Tech was home to me,” said Stuart, from Marshall, Virginia. “My best friends in life, even to this day, went to Virginia Tech.”

Slusser agreed.
“From my first day to the last [at Virginia Tech], it was one of the best times of my life,” Slusser said. “The people there are amazing, the place itself is amazing. I would love to retire and end up living somewhere near that school.”

Soldiers Practice Disaster Response Skills at Guardian Response Exercise

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. -- Smoking buildings lay ruined. Debris and clothing are scattered across the landscape. Vehicles, some tipped topsy-turvy, are strewn along roads and paths. Human cries for help can be heard, calling out for someone to save them.

Skyward, the distant beating of rotor blades indicates that rescue helicopters are on the way.

Fortunately, this is only a training scenario as part of the U.S. Northern Command-hosted Guardian Response 18 exercise, which takes place here through April 30. The center is located southeast of Camp Atterbury, Indiana, its sister training facility.

Fort Bliss, Texas-based soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-501st "Desert Knights" General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Armored Division, soar in on HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. They are here to train to validate their ability to assist with defense support of civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear catastrophe.

Leaders say this training is all about saving lives and preventing suffering.

“Normally, at Fort Bliss, Texas, we train for a decisive-action fight, for the next conflict, the next war. It is very different,” said Army Capt. Nicholas Schaefer, Charlie Company’s commander.

Different Kind of Training

The Guardian Response exercise “is different because we’re supporting the home front,” Schaefer said.

During this exercise, flying into an urban setting offers new challenges, he said. There are power lines. Debris or trash on the ground can get kicked up into the helicopter’s rotors. Crowds of people rushing toward helicopters is also a huge concern for crew chiefs and flight medics.

“There are a lot more dynamics in an urban environment,” Shaefer said. “We really have to be on our game when landing and departing from an environment like Muscatatuck.”

In the scenario, there’s a blast and radioactive plume with a trail of damage. The soldiers and their helicopters are placed outside of that plume, upwind and away from a nuclear blast at a safe airfield. They provide external support for displaced civilians, aid the injured, assist medical sites on the ground and evacuate patients and casualties.

The helicopters basically function as airborne emergency rooms capable of transporting six litter or six ambulatory patients or a mix of both.

Flight crews will have the opportunity to train on the latest high-tech medical gear called Medical Ultra Wideband Broadcast, or MEDHUB. It is a hands-free system that uses Bluetooth technology to capture data, including patient information, inventory and arrival times.

Normally, when treating patients on the front line, medics often must transcribe patient information on cards or memorize the data. The new technology will help speed up the process and inform the receiving hospital physicians on the patients’ status before they arrive.
“They will be better able to make decisions for the patient based on all of this data being transmitted,” said Army Staff Sgt. Spencer Anderson, a crew chief with Charlie Company. “Not only that, but the information will travel all the way up to division level almost in real time as it updates every two minutes.”