FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Aircrews from the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade trained with specialty rescue teams May 18 as part of an extreme weather exercise.
The exercise was coordinated by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to test emergency support during a hurricane.
The 28th ECAB trained at Fort Indiantown Gap’s Muir Army Airfield and at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown.
At Muir, members of the Montgomery County Urban Search and Rescue Team practiced loading and unloading inflatable boats and equipment into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from Bravo Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion. The helicopter transported the team to a landing zone near Selinsgrove, where the team practiced unloading and loading.
At Johnstown, an aircrew from Charlie Company, 2-104th GSAB, conducted hoist training with the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, a partnership between the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, PEMA and credentialed civilian rescue technicians.
Col. Tim Zerbe, state Army aviation officer, said the exercise was critical to the Pennsylvania National Guard’s domestic operational support to the commonwealth.
“We need to practice coordination, communication and integration of Pennsylvania Army National aviation assets in exercises like this so when we are called upon to assist the commonwealth, we can react quickly, efficiently and effectively to provide a positive outcome in saving citizens,” Zerbe said.
Zerbe said every opportunity to participate in mission-essential-task training increases proficiency for a real emergency.
“By participating in this exercise, Pennsylvania Army National Guard aviation was able to practice individual and collective training that directly relates to our aviation mission essential tasks and perform the necessary repetitions required to form cohesive teams, both militarily and with our civilian partners,” Zerbe said.
The Montgomery County Urban Search and Rescue Team is based in Montgomery County but may be deployed throughout Pennsylvania.
The team brought 14 people, known as a “mission-ready package,” to this exercise – a small contingency of specialized personnel and equipment that would be lowered into an affected area where normal transportation can’t deploy the team’s boats.
It was the team’s first time working with the National Guard, said Joe Dishler, task force leader.
“This is the kind of training that ups everyone’s game,” Dishler said. “We don’t usually get access to this. This is the most safe environment we can learn in and from the best people in the world.”
Other agencies involved in the exercise included the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Civil Air Patrol, the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT and FEMA.
The primary objectives for the exercise included:
Activating and operating a commonwealth response coordination center.
Exercising the air operations cell and search and rescue.
PEMA communications exercise.
Continuity of operations.
Documenting the activation, response and recovery processes.