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Reservists, local sheriff join forces for C-17 rescue, recovery training

446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 11:40AM January 17th, 2013
Reservists, local sheriff join forces for C-17 rescue, recovery training

Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle

Lt. Col. Christopher Von Thaden (middle) works with members of the Pierce County Metro Dive Team during joint C-17 rescue and recovery training on JBLM McChord Field.

Nate Condreay put out a bounty for C-17 Globemaster III experts. The search ended when Reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing turned themselves in.

The high volume of C-17 traffic flying back and forth from JBLM, paired with the countless bodies of water in the Puget Sound area, led the deputy sheriff and rescue diver on a manhunt for an Air Force aircraft specialist to train the Pierce County Metro Dive Team in the intricacies of the C-17. They got a volunteer — Lt. Col. David Jeske, chief of 446th AW Combat Readiness.

“Given the hazards associated with being in a water environment, then having the added pressure of responding to an incident where lives are on the line isn’t the time to try to figure out how things work,” said Condreay, who in his “spare” time works as an air transportation specialist with the 36th Aerial Port Squadron at McChord Field. “By doing this training it gives our team the ability to put a plan into effect, so we can safely rescue the crew, passengers, and any special cargo.”

In the event a C-17 were to crash, or be forced to land, in a body of water, the dive team would take the call for the rescue effort. Jeske, along with Maj. Gene Ballou, 446th AW chief of safety, Maj. Josh Pieper, from the 62nd Airlift Wing, and Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura from the 446th Operations Group were the answers. Led by Jeske, Team McChord’s quartet facilitated C-17 rescue and recovery training Jan. 10.

“Because of my past assignments in rescue units, I try to bridge the gap and facilitate between local rescue and recovery organizations, and experts in the C-17 like our aircrews here in the 446th AW,” Jeske, of Renton, said.

Along with familiarizing the dive team with the potential dangers that can occur during rescue efforts, the training, which included a classroom briefing and a hands-on walk through of an actual C-17, covered the various entry points that would be available to them during an incident.

“We prepared the training from an Air Force perspective, so we could answer the questions that local rescue organizations would have,” said Jeske, a 22-year Air Force and Navy veteran. “We put ourselves in their shoes in order to provide them with answers before they even had to ask.”

What will a scene look like?

What are the priorities during a rescue operation?

What capabilities does a C-17 have that could help in a crisis situation?

What hazards does this scene present that can be planned for?

Jeske said these are the sort of questions he and the aircrew anticipated for their instruction — according to Condreay, they were right on point.

“Every time a member of our team asked a question, (the aircrew’s) briefing seemed to have the answer within the turn of the page,” he said. “They came well prepared in helping with our end goal of planning for a safe and successful rescue if one were to arise.”

However, covering the abilities of the C-17 was first on Jeske’s agenda.

“First and foremost, we wanted them to be familiar with the awesome capabilities of this aircraft —particularly the lifesaving capabilities and the nature and location of hazards,” he said. “We talked about the potential incident locations of the aircraft, its specifics, what they could expect at the scene of an event, what could be onboard an aircraft and how it can be secured, ways to access the aircraft, lifesaving equipment carried onboard, and the potential hazards.”

As important as the classroom training was, Jeske said actually going out and encountering McChord’s airlift asset is an experience that’s second to none.

“Nothing beats seeing and touching all of these items on an actual aircraft,” he said. “The hands-on familiarization was the key to the day’s events. It dramatically increases the ability and capability of these local rescue organizations.”

Even as an air transportation specialist, who is exposed to C-17 aircraft more than an average Airman, Condreay concurs with Jeske.

“I learned a lot of things about the C-17 I hadn’t already known,” said the Eatonville resident. “I was extremely impressed with (the aircrew’s) knowledge of the aircraft, emergency procedures, and the particular hazards we could face.”

According to Condreay, his teammates said the training was a valued experience.

“They all seemed impressed with the training, and enjoyed the opportunity to do a walk through of an actual C-17, which made the training that much better,” he said. “It was the first time many of them had been on the aircraft. They also said they learned a great deal and enjoyed the ability to train with the Air Force.”

Overall, the training ended up being better than anticipated, Jeske said.

“The orientation and familiarization today was tremendous,” he said. “In addition to the nuts and bolts familiarization with the C-17, it helped to build a bond between those Airmen flying our jets, and those rescue personnel who are working hard to ensure their safety, although we hope we never need them. We recognize the C-17 is the safest jet in the air, but it’s good to know that in a crisis we can focus on what can, and will, save lives.”