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More than 850 ground recovery forces and 51 aircraft from the Department of Defense and numerous other countries kicked off a personnel recovery and combat search and rescue exercise Dec. 8 at Davis-Monthan AFB (Arizona).
The two week-long Angel Thunder 2008 exercise allows U.S. and international military forces and numerous national, multinational and interagency personnel recovery assets to train through the full spectrum of personnel recovery capabilities — preparation, planning, execution and adaptation.
“Angel Thunder is a very unique program, built by the combat search and rescue community from the grass roots level, that incorporates the lessons we’ve collectively learned from our experiences,” said Maj. Brett Hartnett, the Angel Thunder Project Officer assigned to the 563rd Operational Support Squadron here. “This exercise helps to eliminate the idea that personnel recovery can be done independent of other agencies, because from experience, we know that each service and government agency must work together to make successful recoveries at home and abroad.”
Personnel recovery is the sum of military, civil, and political operations needed to gain the release or rescue of military personnel from uncertain or hostile environments, and civilians during combat, disaster and relief operations.
The exercise takes rescue personnel through a number of scenarios that emulate real-world rescue operations that have happened or have the possibility of happening. The mountainous regions of Southern Arizona and New Mexico are being used because they mirror the landscapes found throughout Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations around the world.
The recovery forces see the benefit of learning and making mistakes during exercises like Angel Thunder, versus on the battlefield where lives are on the line.
“It’s better to exercise this now than it would be when bullets are flying in a real combat situation,” said Master Sgt. Chad Watts, the superintendent of combat survival training at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
More than 30 volunteers from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Air Force ROTC cadets from the University of Arizona served as survivors to add another level of realism to this exercise, Sergeant Watts said. “We need something tangible to look for, something to bring home. Ultimately, without a survivor you don’t have an exercise.”
Other key players participating in Angel Thunder included rescue forces from Chile, Colombia and Germany who are working alongside American forces throughout each phase of the exercise.
Personnel recovery operations require a precise mix of ground air forces to aid in successful rescues. Angel Thunder 2008 integrates combat aircrew forces, guardian angel and intelligence personnel, battle managers, and joint search and rescue center personnel. Because ground recovery forces routinely operate with forces from sister services, and other national, international and interagencies that may communicate, and respond in slightly different ways, Angel Thunder 2008 was designed to facilitate interoperability, cross-culture sharing of tactics and procedures.
“Everybody has their own tactics, techniques and procedures and having everybody come together allows us to work through some of the communication differences, and allows us to share lessons learned with each other,” Sergeant Watts said.
Aircraft participating in Angel Thunder 2008 include the HH-60G Pave Hawk, the MC-130P Combat Shadow, C-130 Hercules, the AH-64D Longbow, the UH-1N Huey, C-17 Globemaster III, the KC-135 Stratotanker, the HC-130P/N, EC-130H Compass Call, the E-3 Sentry, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the German air force Tornado.
Angel Thunder 2008, hosted by Air Combat Command officials, is the third joint personnel recovery and combat rescue exercise conducted at Davis-Monthan AFB. American participation in this exercise include members from the Air Force, Army, the Department of Justice, the National Reconnaissance Office, the State Department, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Joint Forces Command with multinational observers from Mexico, Canada and Pakistan.
Kerry Jackson (AFNS)
Tags: AFSOC, Air Force, Air Force Special Operations Command, Bundesluftwaffe, Bundeswehr, Davis Monthan, Deutsche Luftwaffe, German Air Force, Helicopter, International Exercise, Luftwaffe, MH-53, MH-53 Helicopter, MH-53 Pave Low, MH-53 Pave Low Helicopter, MH-53 Special Operations Helicopter, Pave Low, Pave Low Helicopter, S&R, Search & Rescue, Special Operations, Special Operations Aviation, Special Operations Command, Special Operations Helicopter