BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Once a year, members of the New York National Guard's 24th Civil Support Team jump out of a perfectly good helicopter and into the waters of Gravesend Bay off the southern tip of Long Island.
It's a technique called helocasting and this year the annual training exercise took place June 6.
The Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Civil Support Team (CST)-the full title is 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team - are trained to detect and identify radiological, chemical, and biological weapons and hazards for civil authorities. The 24th is based at Fort Hamilton and focuses on responding to incidents in New York City.
New York City is built around rivers, islands and other waterways and traffic on local highways is notoriously subject to traffic jams. So using a helicopter to get close to an incident, and then jumping into the water nearby, could be the fastest way to deploy, explained Sgt. Madalena Noyse, one of the CST's chemical operations specialists.
The 24th CST conducts helocasting training each year to prepare for that kind of delivery to a target site, said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Bhoorasingh, the 24th CST's reconnaissance non-commissioned officer.
The 24th CST also has to be prepared to respond to incidents on board a ship entering New York harbor. The Soldiers and Airmen need to be prepared to exit a helicopter into the water by a ship or Coast Guard boat, if they can't land directly on the vessel, explained Capt. Robert Freed, deputy commander of the 24th CST.
Helocasting is an aerial insertion technique used by small units to move personnel and equipment into a maritime area when they can't land.
The small unit is flown by helicopter to a position just above the water's surface. The team members jump into the water and then swim to a waiting boat or the shore.
The June 6 exercise was the culmination of a week of water-related training for the 24th CST, Freed said.
The Soldiers and Airmen started off training in basic Army water survival and then on drown-proofing training to make sure they were comfortable in the water, Freed explained.
The next step was open water training in which the CST members jumped off U.S. Coast Guard boats into the water.
The final process before the helocasting exercise was to practice jumping from a high dive into a pool, Freed said. This is about the height at which the CST members are expected to exit a hovering helicopter into the water, he explained.
Along with helocasting, the CST members also practice fast-roping into the water. In this helicopter exit, the Soldiers and Airmen slide down a rope into the water.
This technique was also practiced on June 6.
The June 6 training mission began with 24th CST members linking up with a UH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter flown by members of the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach. New York.
The CST members were fitted with Mustang Survival Flotation Suits specifically designed to protect them from weather and environmental conditions. The suits also use closed-cell foam to offer flotation and protection from hypothermia.
The 24th CST has these suits in its supply room because of the need to be ready for water-based missions, Freed said. “A CST in Kansas would not have a need for them,” Freed said.
The CST waited for the Airmen at the baseball field at Fort Hamilton, the Army's military base in New York City.
The CST members were briefed on the mission and safety protocols before embarking on a one-minute flight over the Belt Parkway and out over Gravesend Bay.
Hovering 10 feet above the water, Freed took charge as each team member exited the aircraft, splashing into the water.
Once in the water, the Soldiers and Airmen were picked up by New York Naval Militia Patrol Boat 440.
The boat is based at the United States Coast Guard base on Staten Island as part of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, the New York National Guard security augmentation force in New York City.
The June 6 training exercise was the culmination of water-focused training the 27th CST had been conducting, Noyes said.
"Today's training really ties everything together," she said.
Not only is the training useful, but it is also fun, Bhoorasingh said.
“It is pretty awesome,” Freed said about the helocasting training. “One of these things about a very small, elite unit is to have these kinds of training opportunities. It is pretty special.”