by Staff Sgt. Leslie kraushaar
920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (AFNS) — An unused rocket-assembly building here is finding new life as a training facility to teach high-altitude, high-angle and confined-space rescue techniques.
Air Force Reserve pararescuemen and combat rescue officers from the 920th Rescue Wing here, joined their active-duty counterparts to attend a two-week ROCO Rescue course in the facility. The 300-foot tall Titan rocket assembly building is providing the requisite challenges for teams that have to climb, clamp, rig and pull “survivors” up and down the steel platforms.
Rescuers wear tactical vests, body armor, radios and ballistic helmets when training. The added weight and limited mobility add realism to the training.
“We simulate anything — any type of situation that these guys may find theirselves in and have a victim to rescue,” said Ishmael Antonio, the tactical program manager and instructor for ROCO Rescue.
A retired PJ himself, Mr. Antonio travels all over the country with his team of instructors to refresh the rope skills of PJs and CROs.
“We don’t tell them how to do their jobs — this is just a refresher for them,” Mr. Antonio said. “These are perishable skills, ones that must be maintained,” said Mr. Antonio.
In one training scenario, rescuers leave a 220-pound dummy on the complex floor, then climb up the metal staircases, stopping near the top of the assembly building..
Then the clock starts — first, one PJ rappels down to the “victim” to package him up for hoisting; second, the other team members make up a rope and pulley system from the gear they have on them; third, the PJs and CROs haul up the PJ and “victim” by heaving on the pulley and rope systems; fourth, they pull the PJ and “victim” to the safety of the steel platform.
As one team finishes, a team several stories above them rappels a PJ to pick up where that team left off for the same goal — to get the “victim” up to the highest point in the massive complex.
“You really learn how to use the tools in your pocket,” said Tech. Sgt. Adrian Durham, a reserve pararescueman from the 920th RQW. “Keeping everything as simple as possible is our goal here.”
“We are considered rescue technicians,” said Capt. James Sluder, a reserve combat rescue officer from the 920th RQW. “This course and our knowledge of ropes give us the credibility to be able to come in and do the rescue in a timely, safe fashion.”
The training helps with deployments always looming in the future and the humanitarian rescues that can happen at any time. In fact, this exact training was put to use during their deployment to Afghanistan last year where they had to extract and save more than 300 Afghan nationals from buried vehicles after an avalanche swept away a road.
“You never know what you’re going to get until you get there,” Mr. Antonio said.
The PJs and CROs are a unique group. Their knowledge of ropes sets them apart from the other special-forces units, and allows them to perform their duties in technically challenging areas, such as mountains, ravines, rivers and, in some cases, industrial areas, Mr. Antonio said.
“You have to be able to think quickly in these situations,” Sergeant Durham said. “Time is always against you and the best protection from being killed is speed.”
The 920th RQW is Air Force Reserve Command’s Combat Search and Rescue Unit. There are two geographically separated units, each with their own Guardian Angel Weapons System (CROs, PJs and search, evasion, resistance, escape specialists) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. and Portland International Airport, Ore.