OKINAWA, Japan — United States Army Vessel crews and Air Force Rescue Squadrons conducted a joint medical evacuation training exercise off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 10.
The exercise, which included coordination between United States Army Vessel Landing Craft crews of USAV Fort McHenry (Landing Craft Utility 2020) and USAV Calaboza (LCU 2009), the 10th Support Group, and Airmen from the 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons, allowed both services to gain valuable lifesaving experience.
"We are doing a joint operation with the Air Force, which is allowing them to exercise their abilities to conduct MEDEVACs, via hoist, from their helicopter platform," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sean Meenan, vessel master of LCU 2020, 10th SG. "It is also allowing us to rehearse our MEDEVAC procedures on our vessel.”
The hoist is a cable system that allows cargo and personnel to enter and exit the helicopter while it is hovering. Because the Army LCUs are too small for a helicopter to land, the hoist system is necessary for allowing Air Force pararescuemen to get onto the vessel where they can provide medical care and lift a patient into the helicopter for evacuation.
"There have been emergencies out here, and I have been a part of them,” said Staff Sgt. Spencer Grimes, LCU 2020's first mate. “When we train for things like this, our crew knows exactly what to do, and there is no nervousness or anything like that.”
The training, which included day and night iterations, involved the HH-60G Pave Hawks approaching and hovering over the decks of the LCUs as pararescuemen and their medical stretchers were lowered onto and lifted off of the Army watercraft.
"The things we did today that make us better is having the knowledge base to execute when there is an emergency," said Grimes.
Meenan added that his crew gained experience treating a medical patient on the deck, calling in the MEDEVAC through radio systems, and preparing the deck for the helicopter’s arrival.
"In this particular training exercise, one of the challenges is […] communication between us and the helicopter," said Meenan. "For the bridge team, the most difficult portion of the training was knowing where the helicopter was at all times.” Meenan explained the necessity of providing the rescue squadron a stable platform which is a challenge due to the rotor wash caused by the hovering helicopter.
The exercise provided opportunity for the vessel crews to optimize medical evacuation procedures while the rescue squadrons gained familiarity of conducting allowed both Army and Air Force units to hone their skills and cross-train to get a better understanding of how each other operates.
The enormous undertaking of this training, with the coordination of both helicopters and vessels, required all hands-on deck to execute precise coordination to keep everyone safe.
"It was very eye-opening," said Grimes. "[The pararescuers] are very skillful at their job, they know exactly what they need to do, they informed us what […] to do. They were very professional towards me and my crew, and I couldn't be more thankful."
The training emphasizes that the LCUs can serve a diverse number of requirements and support its sister services.
"This type of opportunity is valuable to our crew, not just because of the experience and training value, but also displays what our Army watercraft are capable of," said Meenan. "We are not just a landing craft, we are a platform that can be utilized to support a wide variety of operations, and we are always ready."