FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Kentucky Army National Guard cadets learned how to survive aviation water crashes March 12 under the direction of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's Dunker Training instructors.
Retired special operations forces and military dive instructors in the 160th SOAR taught the cadets in the University of Kentucky's ROTC program essential skills to survive in the water.
"I think Dunker is a valuable skill because you don't get to choose where you crash in a situation like that. It's possible you can land in either a pond, a creek, stream, or swimming pool inadvertently, and the skills that we teach here will help save your life," said Chris Smith, facilities manager at the Allison Aquatics Training Facility.
The AATF uses advanced underwater egress training equipment, including a hybrid body of an MH-47G Chinook and MH-60 Black Hawk replica, lifeboat and floatation devices, and a hydraulic lift. The pool has a wave simulator, two industrial-size fans and light and sound systems to create extreme weather conditions.
"You don't have to be super strong in the water to do what we teach here. You've just got to be able to follow instructions. If you do what we asked you to do, you'll easily find your way out of the simulator," said Smith.
The instructors first teach the course in a classroom environment, introducing the cadets to correct and incorrect techniques for taking the safest and most efficient route out of the egress body. Once transitioning into the pool, the cadets are tested on their knowledge via smaller-scale training devices before entering the helo replica.
"I think it's a valuable skill set; whether you get the training before flight school or after flight school is really insignificant. It may make a difference for some of those folks that are thinking about going flight if they don't enjoy the training because they're going to have to do it. It might be a determining factor for them," Smith said.
"I always wanted to be in the military, but I also wanted to get my degree. UK has fulfilled my dream of being able to be in the biomedical engineering program and be in the military," Cadet Zach Gillum of the 2-147th said. "If it wasn't for the National Guard's Minuteman Scholarship, I would've definitely had to take student loans."
Less than 5% of University of Kentucky cadets that commission as second lieutenants choose aviation, so Dunker training is not exclusive to future aviators.
The UK ROTC cadets are participating in the Simultaneous Membership Program, which allows National Guard cadets to participate in full-time school and ROTC while also taking an active role in their units. This participation offers cadets the opportunity to shadow other officers, integrate with their unit's members, and gain experiences that will enable them to meet their career goals.
"UK has always been a Guard-friendly ROTC program," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jennifer Maggard, the assistant professor of military science and National Guard liaison at the University of Kentucky. "For the past four years, the UK ROTC program has been the No. 1 recipient for the Minuteman Scholarship Award out of the 7th Brigade within Cadet Command."