VICENZA, Italy - It’s a fact … bad things can happen. However, with planning and the right tools, even a worst case scenario can be survivable.
That’s exactly why the U. S. Army Africa Personnel Recovery Directorate exists.
For USARAF travelers, a visit to the USARAF PRD is a must. They outfit travelers with tools and information that can help during emergencies survival or medical skills.
“We’re here to offer training, education and preparation for travelers in the African continent,” John Whitley, USARAF Personnel Recovery director said.
He said there are several requirements travelers should complete before arriving at foreign destinations. Requirements are in place to aid personnel recovery teams in the event of an emergency.
“Everyone should have a plan and a statement of preparedness completed known as a STOP. It’s a requirement. People are getting better about completing these requirements, but we can still improve,” Whitley said.
He said prior travel planning preparation and quality control will improve the probability of survival in the event of traveler isolation.
John Bratcher, a USARAF personnel recovery specialist, explains isolation and gives some pointers for travelers.
“The Army defines personnel isolation as missing, detained or captured. We help with briefing travelers on how to handle isolation if it happens,” Bratcher said. “Isolation can happen when a vehicle breaks down, accident occurs not just from being lost in the boonies. However, travelers need to be able to survive in an isolated situation up to 96 hours. There are many scenarios that can create isolation. We’re the guys to come to for training.”
A typical pre-travel visit to the USARAF PRD consists of a quick brief of risks that cautious travelers should be aware of in their destination countries.
“We recommend travelers going to Africa come in and see us at least two weeks before their departure,” he said.
Before making an appointment at the PRD, travelers must complete basic antiterrorism and force protection training. Additionally, they need complete basic survival, evasion, resistance and escape training known as SERE. They also need to ensure that their isolation preparation information is updated. The USARAF PRD can guide travelers through these requirements.
Bratcher said the USARAF PRD will inform travelers of risks that may be present in destination countries. Additionally, they’ll give travelers a small survival kit and a personal locator beacon. Travelers are urged to get a small but complete first aid kit from their unit as well.
“The most dangerous event we see on the continent (Africa) is a vehicle accident. If you are outside of cell phone coverage and you are in a critical traffic accident, it’s important to be able to save yourself or your buddy,” Batcher said. “Here in Italy, it’s the law that you carry a first aid kit. In Africa, it can save your life.”
Another tool the PRD equips travelers with is a personal locater beacon. When a personal locator beacon is activated it sends a signal to a civilian search and rescue network.
“We provide a personal locator beacon that is extremely simple to use. Pushing one button alerts a search and rescue network. It takes time before the distress signal is routed to us, and that’s one of the reasons to be prepared to survive up to 96 hours without assistance. Africa is a big continent and it may take some time to locate an isolated traveler,” Bratcher said.
Capt. Spenger Jeune of USARAF’s Communications and Information Services recently visited the recovery directorate. Jeune echoed PRD advice for travelers as he was picking up the survival kit and personal locator beacon.
“Pre-trip visits to the Personnel Recovery Directorate is mandatory for anyone traveling from our office,” Jeune said.
“Certainly, nobody wants to be in an isolated situation, but it’s always good to be prepared. Prepare for the worst and expect the best,” Juene said.
Bratcher said fundamental survival knowledge is important for travelers in Africa.
“To make a long story short, travelers need to know the basics. They need to know what to take and how to use emergency equipment. We’ll share information and have literature that gives simple, good guidance. We’re building a library of mission briefs for each country on the African continent,” Bratcher said.
According to Bratcher, surviving in an isolated environment is a matter of planning for the unexpected.
“The personnel recovery directorate deals with the what-if factor. We help travelers plan for something that we don’t want to happen,” Bratcher said.