Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Commentary: Surviving water-survival training

by Senior Airman Danielle Wolf
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/29/2010 - NAVAL AIR STATION KEY WEST, Fla. -- Aside from my A-10 "certification" on the flight simulator at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn., I don't have much experience piloting aircraft - or surviving in the water after an emergency ejection.

As a former student-hire with the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, I worked in the support and debrief sections for about a year. I often heard how our pilots made their way through poor weather at home and deployed, numerous bird- and coyote-strikes, and even assisted a civilian pilot down through low-visibility to a safe landing.

Nov. 5, I had the opportunity to train with some of the most talented pilots in the Air Force Reserve. But it wasn't until I jumped into a bay in the Gulf of Mexico in an oversized flight suit, with a harness and life-preserver unit strapped to me, that I realized how important and challenging their jobs are - and how necessary this training could be to their survival.

As I attempted to swim in the extremely buoyant LPU with low-visibility from a helmet strapped to my head, I began to imagine what it would be like to do this in an ocean - after ejecting from an A-10. Alone. In unfamiliar waters. With no immediate relief other than my hand-held survival kit and individual raft.

I've never disregarded my own imagination, or the ability to convince myself I'm in a situation simply for the cause of hypothetical decision-making. The more I realized what a scary situation it would be - the more I realized how important it was that our air-flight-equipment crew and pilots knew exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.

As I rolled out of my individual life raft and swam the 100 yards to the 20-man life raft, I found myself having to control my breathing - both for the physical intensity I encountered and the insetting panic of my hypothetical situation.

Because I was experiencing this simply to gain a reporter's perspective, I tried to be very observant of how my wingman was reacting. I've interviewed this particular pilot a couple times before, and years ago, even did the maintenance debriefing on dozens of his sorties - so I have an idea what his personality is like. Like many of our pilots, he appreciates a good joke and makes a fair share of them himself - but when it came to this training, he was completely focused. It was clear to me that he understood the information could be vital to his survival, if ever an emergency were to occur.

More importantly, he listened to what the air flight equipment crew had to say, and he asked questions. Like many of the pilots I observed, there was a clear respect for the position and knowledge possessed by the AFE technicians.

For me, experiencing water-survival training with our pilots did two things.

First, it showed me that the Air Force offers some of the most valuable and life-saving training I've ever encountered. I might never teach a pilot how to blow up a 20-man life raft and use it to survive (although I did hear that briefing enough times that day to give it a good shot,) but like every other Citizen Airman, I have knowledge and skills that I can use to bring depth and experience to my job.

Second, it reminded me how valuable training is to success in our jobs. I've interviewed several Citizen Airmen in the last year to get their story how they used self-aid and buddy care or situational awareness to help car-accident victims and civilians with unexpected health problems.

So now I know - if I ever decide to become an officer, go to A-10 pilot school, get deployed, fly the Warthog over water and have to eject and survive until help is available - I'm totally ready!

Reporter's perspective - NAVAL AIR STATION KEY WEST, Fla. -- Senior Airman Danielle Wolf, public affairs specialist for the 442nd Fighter Wing, participates in water-survival training with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots Nov. 5, in Key West, Fla. Airman Wolf trained with the 303rd Fighter Squadron pilots to gain a reporter's perspective on what they encounter during their training. The 442nd Fighter Wing is a Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dennis Saugstad)


Comment: Job well done, Danielle.

No comments:

Post a Comment