AUSTIN, Texas - Soldiers of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade and members of Texas Task Force-1 took to the skies over Decker Lake near Austin, Texas, and tested their ability to perform search and extraction operations over wooded areas and water.
The 36th Combat Aviation Brigade provided air support and operated a hoist machine used to raise and lower TX-TF1 members into tree lines and over the lake. TX-TF1 members took turns operating as part of the extraction team and playing the role of civilians in need of rescue.
"This is a great opportunity for the Task Force to get some quality training," said Capt. Scott Bartell, TX-TF1. "When we first started the task force we were only training in helicopters once a quarter. The rest of the time was reserved for practicing swimming. Now we are training in the helicopters about once a month."
Chief Warrant Officer Robert Meischen, a flight Instructor for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, piloted the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Meischen is a combat veteran and executed search and rescue operations during the 2006 floods in San Antonio.
"The most difficult part of these types of scenarios is the water hoist operations. As a pilot you don't have a frame of reference on the ground to guide you and you can't see the motion of the water. These training events really allow us the opportunity to stay sharp on recovery techniques and procedures," Meischen said.
As Meischen ensured the aircraft maintained the correct height and altitude needed for a successful rescue, his crew manned the hoist and called out updates.
When deployed, Sgt. Kevin McLaughlin is a door gunner; but for this operation he is one of the crewmembers controlling the hoist.
"As a soldier in an assault company this mission is not something we would do overseas. That would be for a [Medical Evacuation] company," McLaughlin said. "This training helps us remain proficient with our cable management on the hoist. These guys [TX-TF1] are very professional and have a lot of experience with these types of operations. Our two groups are working together well."
The task force is an assemblage of firefighters and other first responders that are called together in times of natural disaster. For his day job, Bartell works in the Austin Fire Department's Special Operations Group.
"To me, any day you can fly in a helicopter is a good day. If I wasn't here I'd be paying to do this at Six Flags," Bartell said.
Texas Task Force-1 is the most active urban search and rescue team in the country, having responded to at least one major disaster each year since its first deployment in 1998. TX-TF1's urban search and rescue and water rescue teams have responded to both man-made and natural disasters, from the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks to Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
TX-TF1 functions as a federal team under FEMA's national urban search and rescue program and as Texas' only statewide urban search and rescue team under direction of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. TX-TF1 also coordinates the state's water rescue program.