IONIA, Mich. – Soldiers with the Michigan National Guard (MING) Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) conducted cold-load and aircraft familiarity training with local fire and EMS personnel Sept. 15.
"There's a lot of things we don't understand before we approach an aircraft accident scene," said James Nave, deputy director of Eastern Operations for Ionia County Emergency Management Services (EMS).
"I really appreciate the opportunity to get trained on recovering military aircraft," Nave said. "One of the great things about this training is we receive some familiarization with the aircraft, discover what we might encounter, and learn how to safely extract someone, if necessary."
While hard landings and other emergencies are rare with Michigan's military aircraft, the value of this training is especially meaningful to Michigan National Guard aircrews and their civilian first responder partners.
"We work with EMS, firefighters and police officers in this training as they would likely be among the first responders in any incident we might have in our local flying areas," said Sgt. 1st Class John Sheehan, the state standardization instructor for MING Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing. "The training teaches them how to stay safe while also skillfully recovering aircrew in the case of any emergency."
The training took place at the Ionia County Airport with participants representing Life EMS and the Berlin-Orange Fire Department.
The AASF flies two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter variants, a utility or air assault variant and the medical evacuation variant specifically used for emergency situations. They also fly the UH-72 Lakota helicopter, which is smaller and used in surveillance and security missions. Most of the time, these aircraft have high-resolution cameras and spotlights commonly used for counterdrug operations with civilian partners. Additionally, the unit possesses CH-47 Chinooks used mainly for troop transport.
"Today's training featured the Black Hawk utility variant," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Cartwright, an instructor pilot with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, commonly referred to as 1-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion.
The training enables civilian responders to learn more about military equipment, including the opportunity to extract casualties from an aircraft during a simulated exercise.
"We teach our civilian partners how to approach the aircraft safely in the case of a hard landing or a crash outside one of our bases," Sheehan said. "Today, we'll explain the common equipment carried on the aircraft. Then we'll simulate a situation where we are trapped on the aircraft and incapacitated."
Participants took on the role of first responders, assessing the situation and safely and efficiently extracting military personnel from the aircraft within a specific time.
"The most important part of this training for us is if we have a hard landing or air emergency in Michigan, we will need support from our civilian partners," said Cartwright. "It's critical they understand how to approach the scene, what we commonly carry inside the aircraft and how to rescue us, if necessary.
"Secondarily, we are running our pre-accident plan to train ourselves in communication and reaction time for an aircraft needing maintenance or emergency such as a crash," Cartwright said. "We will radio the simulated incident to our facility in Grand Ledge and run them through the rehearsal."
While the AASF conducts multiple exercises throughout the year, this type of accident preparation training occurs only once a year. In 2020, they partnered with Grand Ledge local law enforcement and EMS personnel. Future exercises are planned throughout Michigan, primarily where the unit flies most often.
"We even do this type of training while overseas on deployment," said Sheehan, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 as part of medevac operations. "We would invite fire personnel from outlying forward operating bases to ensure everyone is safe and could respond effectively in an emergency situation."