The Royal Air Force and the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, partnered to conduct a joint personnel recovery exercise July 26, at MK Air Base, Romania. This training was an opportunity to demonstrate the U.S. Army’s ability to routinely act together coherently, effectively, and efficiently with our allies and partners in a myriad of situations.
The training exercise was a realistic scenario of downed RAF and U.S. Army pilots grounded in enemy territory. The downed pilots were tasked with working together to get extracted from enemy territory.
The downed pilots’ first objective was to tactically get to safety and find an appropriate landing site for the incoming Black Hawk. As they moved, the team pulled 360 degree security, keeping eyes on all sides of the perimeter to avoid enemy contact. Once in a secure environment, acceptable for the helicopter, they made radio communications with the extraction team by providing grid coordinates and marking their location with a smoke signal.
The training scenario provided suspected a presence of enemy troops in the area, so the downed pilot team also called in close air support to destroy the suspected enemies. The RAF flew their Eurofighter Typhoon jets over the area to deter enemy contact. U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffery Thompson, a pilot for one of the Black Hawks assigned to 3-1 AHB, remarked that seeing the jets fly over was one of the coolest parts of the training.
“We were down on the ground and you see the jets fly over about 200 feet performing their strafing maneuvers,” Thompson said.
As the extraction helicopters passed over, the pilot was able to spot one of the RAF team members holding the smoke signal in the air. Once they landed, the downed pilots were located and authenticated by the extraction team. Each downed pilot was instructed to keep their hands raised and answer individualized questions to confirm their identities. Once verified, they moved toward the extraction helicopter, hands locked to each other’s shoulders ensuring no one was left behind. Upon reaching the helicopter they flew safely back to the airfield to complete the mission and conduct their After Action Review.
Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. Wharmby served as one of the downed pilots for the training exercise. Wharmby was excited to see the communication and teamwork between the two NATO nations.
“If you [The U.S. Army] have a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter capability, and we have the ground troops that can make use of that, then it saves us bringing out our own helicopters or you bringing your [Combat Search and Rescue] troops to conduct extractions,” Wharmby said.
Each U.S. Army and RAF team member remained committed to the objective to ensure success of the joint personnel recovery exercise. It demonstrates that the U.S. commitment to NATO and the U.K. is enduring, and that NATO Allies and partners stand stronger together.