DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. – When most people hear about a trip to Key West, they often think of vacations filled with sandy beaches and clear water. When Dobbins Airmen hear Key West, many think of survival training.
Nearly 150 Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 94th Operations Group attended combat and water survival training last week at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.
Operation Conch is a two-day Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course preparing aircrew, aeromedical and aircraft flight equipment personnel with techniques for dealing with emergencies on water and land. Airmen participated in Self Aid Buddy Care, water survival training and navigational training in an urban environment.
“The number one expectation is that everyone gets to do the specific events required for this combat survival training,” said Col. Patrick Campbell, 94th Operations Group commander. “The other part is allowing all of the various units to integrate and work together so everyone is aware of who their wingmen are.”
The first day began with water survival training, where participants worked through an emergency downed aircraft scenario. Donning life preservers and jumping into the water at a nearby bay, Airmen practiced boarding one-man rafts, maneuvering under a parachute and mounting a 20-man life raft, which included a survival kit with first aid supplies, food rations, signal markers, flares and radios.
SERE trainers and aircrew flight equipment personnel led the activities and equipped Airmen with the skills needed to handle the wide variety of emergency scenarios that can occur in the water. They also learned how to use the tools necessary to be spotted, located and make contact with emergency rescue personnel after a water landing.
“There is a lot of equipment we provide for water survival,” said Master Sgt. Dallas Criswell, 94th OG aircrew flight equipment instructor. “If Airmen ever hit the water, they need to know how to survive and use their equipment. We have to instill muscle memory in them so they can remember training if ever in an emergency situation.”
On day two, SERE experts discussed various scenarios and taught Airmen techniques for maneuvering in urban environments. Airmen wore civilian clothing to blend in with the local populace and were instructed on using navigational and celestial aids such as satellite dish positioning, solar panel placement, and local maps to navigate within a city.
“As a global force we need to be flexible with our training,” said Airman 1st Class Nathan Pritchard, a SERE specialist. “We need to adapt to the changing environments to make sure we are practicing every situation we may find ourselves in.”
Wing leadership said they saw the training as a success with the nearly 150 Airmen who participated in the exercise now being better prepared to provide mission ready forces.
“No matter where an Airman is tasked in the world, they may find themselves in situations where an aircraft goes down,” said Campbell. “There are many scenarios where Airmen move from point A to point B in different countries. There may be unfriendly forces in these places and we need to know how to defend ourselves. This operation served the purpose of preparing us for all of that.”