COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina National Guard has implemented an aviation concept aimed at better preparing the state and region in aviation domestic operations and homeland defense, known as the Southeastern Army Aviation Training Site (SEAATS).

The South Carolina National Guard partnered with the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center and Greenville Technical College to offer training on the integration of aviation support to civilian authorities and Federal Aviation Administration-certified maintenance courses through SEAATS.

SEAATS is an aviation training concept comprised of the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Training (SC-HART) team headquartered at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, South Carolina, the RAVEN Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) certification also headquartered at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, the Aviation Maintenance Program (AMP) headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, and it also serves as a domestic operations hub for the East Coast for natural disaster aviation response.

SEAATS began as an idea in 2008 under now retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Lester Eisner who served as the assistant adjutant general-Army for the South Carolina National Guard. In 2012 the concept was briefed to put into implementation and in 2017 SEAATS became a reality under U.S. Army Col. Andrew Batten, serving as the South Carolina National Guard 59th Aviation Troop Command (ATC) commander at the time, explained U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sean Reynolds, SEAATS action officer and 59th ATC standardization pilot.

"Our goal is for South Carolina to be the subject matter expert in military and civilian aviation working together… This initiative requires military and civilian staff to coordinate and communicate prior to a disaster and create a standard," said Reynolds.

In the past, military and civilian aviation authorities primarily responded separately to natural disasters, but with the help of SEAATS and the emphasis on aviation domestic operations, it has emphasized inter-agency partnership training and response during Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) missions, Reynolds added.

One of the pillars of SEAATS, is the RAVEN SUAS aircrew training program, which focuses on individual and crew training to ensure the combat proficiency of Army SUAS operators in the combined arms effort, as well as individual proficiency in tasks required to operate a SUAS. The training is conducted in multiple iterations throughout the year at McEntire Joint National Guard Base and is offered to any Military Occupational Specialty that operates the RAVEN. The RAVEN SUAS was recently used by the 43rd Civil Support Team, South Carolina National Guard, during the state's response to Hurricane Florence in September 2018. The RAVEN was used to capture real-time video imagery of the flooding in the state and identify any areas with potential for additional flood waters.

The second pillar of SEAATS is the SC-HART team, comprised of South Carolina National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, crew members, pilots, and medical teams, as well as civilian rescue and medical personnel. SC-HART conducts frequent full-scale training events between the National Guard and civilian agencies implementing complex scenarios to ensure seamless response during real-world emergencies.

SC-HART also played a major role in conducting approximately 30 rescues during the flooding that impacted South Carolina in October 2015, as well as multiple rescues of injured hikers in the upstate in the past, explained U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tripp Hutto, SC-HART program manager and 2-151st Security and Support Aviation Battalion aviation mission survivability officer.

"SC-HART has civilian and military crews working together inside a helicopter, legally and safely…it has become synonymous with a natural disaster," said Hutto. "When people talk about HART, they talk about North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina…North Carolina was the first, Texas is the biggest, Pennsylvania is the busiest, and South Carolina makes the most noise."

To streamline processes, the South Carolina National Guard is contributing to the creation of the HART Standard Operating Procedure being compiled by the National Guard Bureau to help implement and train HART in other states, added Hutto.

The third pillar of SEAATS is AMP, which is a cooperative agreement between the South Carolina National Guard and Greenville Technical College and provides technical training for aviation maintainers. The AMP initiative is currently still being developed, explained Reynolds.

The final pillar of SEAATS is domestic operations. SEAATS prepares aviation domestic operation partnerships to be well organized, managed, standardized, highly capable, and cost-effective, said Reynolds. SEAATS emphasizes building partnerships between the civilian organizations and South Carolina National Guard in response to DSCA missions. Under the concept of SEAATS, the South Carolina National Guard hosted the 2018 Aviation Domestic Operations Workshop, January 2018, where more than 40 states attended. The purpose of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for National Guard aviators, law enforcement, rescue operators, military and civilian planners, and emergency management leaders to discuss topics and issues pertaining to techniques, lessons learned, and integration during emergency response operations.

An additional aspect of SEAATS is incorporating the South Carolina National Guard State Partnership Program with the Republic of Colombia and teaching the partner nation processes and procedures in HART and DSCA response explained Hutto. It also allows other aspects of the South Carolina National Guard to benefit from the concept.

"SEAATS is aviation oriented, but it deals with domestic operations as a whole with how we communicate with civilians," said Hutto.

This includes providing South Carolina National Guard aviation liaison officers to work in the community emergency operation centers during natural disaster response missions to be able to communicate and cross-talk between organizations, he added. This allows for the military and civilian organizations to work hand-in-hand and understand operations and assets available from all organizations.

"We're all working together now…the civilian agencies are in charge and [the South Carolina National Guard] executes the missions," said Reynolds.