LONGVIEW – On the weekend of Feb. 8-10, 2013, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) members from Longview, Tyler, Mount Pleasant, Gilmer, Ore City and Dallas gathered in Gladewater for a Field Training Exercise (FTX) hosted by the Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron.
Cadet and senior members trained in various emergency services subjects while working in remote areas. Member learned to be self-sufficient for three days, functioning on what they could carry in their backpacks. The training emphasized locating missing aircraft presumed to have crashed.
Classes included First Aid, field hygiene, personal safety, compass, maps, shelters, various techniques for locating clues leading to the discovery of aircraft or missing persons, actions upon locating these targets, actions if becoming lost, communications (both radio and whistle signals) and electronic search for Emergency Locater Transmitters (ELTs) that are mandated by law in all aircraft registered in the United States. An inertia switch (similar to what automobiles use to trigger air bags) is activated when an aircraft comes to a sudden stop or suffers a very hard landing. Once an ELT is activated, Civil Air Patrol is alerted and air and ground teams can home in on the radio signal that the ELT transmits.
An El-Per is used to locate an ELS signal transmitter. Much time is spent during squadron meetings as well as on FTXs learning how to use the El-Per.
The recent FTX started on Friday evening as members checked in at the Gladewater Municipal Airport. After a safety briefing, participants loaded up equipment and headed out to the training area to set up camp. Attendees are responsible for providing their own meals and tents. Once camp is established, everyone has an opportunity to gather around the campfire, eat, greet old friends and/or make new ones. Since CAP trains to national standards, CAP members can work with other personnel from anywhere in the U.S. This is a valuable asset when working rescue missions in Texas and other states.
After preparing and eating their own breakfast, participants started training. Personnel were sorted into two groups (Alpha and Bravo) according to their previous experience and the Emergency Services specialty in which they wished to receive certification. Alpha members were new to Ground Team work so they started classes covering basic field work information. Bravo members had already accomplished the basic requirements, and also included personnel working on more advanced topics, so this group started almost immediately on field work, practicing some of the techniques they had learned previously. A small team from Bravo was organized to erect the radio antenna while Alpha began attending classes. Each group had different schedules for classes and field work throughout the weekend, though Radio operation and First Aid classes were taught to both groups at the same time.
In mid-afternoon, all were recalled to Mission Base as several Hallsville Police cars arrived. Attendees saw Sargent Brian Best and his dog Bruce come out of a car, accompanied by dog trainers Norm and Karen Garner, and Animal Control Officer Victoria Aldrete. Bruce is a highly trained Belgian Malinois, and as Mr. Garner explained, is a breed specifically chosen for tracking and drug detection. Although the dog seemed gentle and members were allowed to pet it, he could also be very aggressive if ordered to attack.
After demonstrating Bruce’s tracking ability, volunteers experienced Bruce’s fierce side. Each volunteer, wearing an armored full arm-length glove, was given a safety briefing on how to act when the dog attacked. When Bruce saw the glove come out, he became very excited. After several cadets had experienced Bruce’s enthusiastic attacks, Sgt. Best demonstrated another important skill of a well-trained attack dog.
After giving Bruce the attack signal, with the dog at full speed towards Lieutenant Colonel Davis (one of the volunteers), Sargent Best shouted a command and Bruce immediately veered off to the right, about four feet from his initial target. Then, without touching Davis, returned to his handler. Normal training resumed after Bruce and his handlers had left. This experience was a hot topic during the evening meal.
Following the K9 demonstrations, both groups were assigned field tasks. On Bravo’s sortie, an injury was simulated on one of the student Ground Team members to see how the student Ground Team Leader and Team members handled the situation. The scenario simulated that the El-Per operator had gone down with an ankle injury. The students handled the simulated injury well, assessing the injury and reporting to Mission Base that the Team was aborting the assigned sortie to return to Base (as their trainers at Mission Base expected them to do).
Had the injury been real, the exercise director would have provided transport to the Team’s location or at least as close as possible to it. On this exercise, the Team was told that transport was not available so they had to work together to get the “injured Team member” back to Base, which they did successfully.
The final sortie of the day took place at nightfall. Both groups were merged for a simulated ELT search. At the time they left, trainees did not know that staff had placed an aircraft fuselage and tail in the training area, with two simulated crash victims in it. This exercise usually surprises new trainees who, after locating the target (an actual aircraft,) find two “injured” survivors with which they must deal.
The Ground Team Leader trainee quickly assessed the challenges and issued appropriate directions to the trainee team. The Leader decided that the “survivors” could be moved out of the fuselage while taking care not to injure them further. This was accomplished well and, after preparing the survivors for transport back to Mission Base, they requested transport for them. However, the ELT was still transmitting the distress signal.
Mission Base advised that, since the survivors were stable, the Team was to silence the ELT transmitter first. This directive resulted in another electronic search, because the ELT was not in the fuselage. It was soon located a short distance away, silenced, and the Team directed to return to Base. This was the most advanced field problem the trainees had to handle, and they performed well. The evening meal was a relief after that.
When on an FTX, the Squadron usually features a pizza Saturday night at a modest personal cost. The pizza party is usually followed by a movie, free time or bed – depending on available time (on this occasion, it was lights out after the movie).
After trainees had gone to bed, since an intense rain storm was approaching, staff took down the radio antenna and packed up all electronic devices and files before turning in for the night.
After breakfast, participants broke camp, though this morning it was challenging, as the rain storm had soaked everything. One cadet woke up to a few inches of water on the bottom of her tent as she had inadvertently set up her tent on low-lying terrain.
After striking camp, all cleaned up the area so as to leave it cleaner than found, then proceeded back to the airport where several important activities would await them. Now that they had covered the basic classes and demonstrated at least a familiarity with the material, staff moved all students to more advanced classes followed by two additional sorties.
The trainees were to be exposed to the difficulties of locating an ELT at an airport. Since most airport hangars are of steel construction, the ELT signal is reflected all around upon striking the walls, making it very difficult to home in on the signal as there are many false signals present. The trainees had to select the correct signal from the background noise produced by reflections. Once El-Per operators locate an ELT on an airport, they have begun to master the equipment, a skill perfected through many training sessions, allowing them to find a target quicker. During the weekend training, all members learned how to use the El-Per and tracked ELT signals using it.
After the two final sorties, all trainees returned to the terminal building. Staff had been in radio contact with Air 1, East Texas Medical Center’s helicopter, which would be landing at the Airport shortly. The trainees observed how the helicopter approached the landing pad. Once the helicopter had landed and the rotors stopped turning, the trainees were invited to approach for a briefing on the aircraft and its capabilities. The Flight EMT briefed them on the team’s medical capabilities and demonstrated how patients are loaded for transport. Many cadet trainees volunteered to be loaded into the aircraft.
One very important part of the briefing covered how CAP members could work with the aircrew during missions. CAP members were shown the emergency shutdown procedures, should Air 1 crash and the engines be still running. The briefing also included what CAP members would do in order to prepare and then direct the EMT helicopter into a remote landing zone to pick up patients. The crew then answered questions from the trainees and staff.
The weekend’s final activity was the debriefing. All participants gathered in the terminal building and, as always, the first topic was safety. The entire weekend was reviewed to determine whether there had been any unexpected safety issues and judged whether the chosen actions had been appropriate. Next came the training received. This is always a “no holds barred” honest appraisal from everyone who attended.
Information gathered during this session is always useful to staff, who can learn whether anything had been overlooked or could be improved upon. The main issue this time was that the schedule had been overoptimistic; a close second was that some trainees had come without being fully prepared. Staff noted improvements to be applied for the next FTX. The trainees proved to be open-minded and with the right attitude, as they had brought with them curiosity and eagerness to learn, thus making their training more productive. In spite of Sunday morning’s early rain storm, much got accomplished and some of the trainees are now very close to being certified as Ground Team Members.
Those attending the training weekend included:
Lieutenant Colonel Melanie Capehart- Southwest Region Staff
Major Steve Kintner- Group 2 Staff
Captain Matt Brown- Tyler Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman First Class Vincent Joy- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman First Class Zachary Compton- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Cadet Senior Airman Trent Compton- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Douglas Trull- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Senior Member Stacie Smith- Gregg County Composite Squadron
First Lieutenant Darrell Smith- Gregg County Composite Squadron]
Cadet Technical Sargent Savannah Smith- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Nicholas Smith- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Captain Karl Falken- Gregg County Composite Squadron
Captain Harold Parks- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Davis- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Robert Alcock- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Blythe Smith- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Basic Tamara Bentz- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman First Class Briar Thomas- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman First Class Austin Page- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Basic Aaron Avery- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Cody Couey- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Second Lieutenant Jarrod Alexander- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Second Lieutenant Matt Brown- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Technical Sargent Seth Grimes- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Airman Chris Barbour- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Cadet Chief Master Sargent Jordan Trewitt- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Second Lieutenant Matt Sartor- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
First Lieutenant Farrell Alexander- Gladewater Corsairs Composite Squadron
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to 27,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs. CAP received the World Peace Prize in 2011 and has been performing missions for America for 71 years. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com, www.capvolunteernow.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 903-762-1133 for more information.