From the field: Volunteer rescuers test their aerial skills

>Today’s post comes from Lt. Michael Myers, the Coast Guard Auxiliary liaison and deployment officer at Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich. As the nation’s smallest armed service, the Coast Guard’s tasked with a huge variety of missions. No where is that more evident than here in the Ninth District, where we’re responsible for executing the service’s 11 mandated missions across 6,700 miles of U.S. coastline and 1,500 miles of international border with Canada.

That would be an impossible task if it were’nt for the help of the many selfless volunteers who give of their free time in our Coast Guard Auxiliary. Here’s Lt. Myers story about the dedicated volunteers who took to the skies to hone their search and rescue skills during a recent exercise held at Air Station Traverse City:

“Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City hosted a Coast Guard Auxiliary Air 2009 Search and Rescue Exercise on June 27th at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, MI. The 10 hour exercise involved active duty Coast Guard aviation and surface units, and Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla and Aviation personnel and facilities.

It was designed to enhance Auxiliary pilot’s preparedness in support of an actual Search and Rescue (SAR) case. The exercise encompassed pre-mission planning, search area plotting, programming search patterns into aircraft navigation equipment and successfully flying the search area.

Seven fully qualified AirAux pilots, three pilots-under-instruction/observers, and one observer participated in the exercise. The group flew into Cherry Capital Airport and conducted ground training on SAR procedures, standardized terminology, and aircraft specific GPS programming. Following training, the group had a working lunch at the Air Station’s Smith Hall, enjoying camaraderie and professional discussion. After lunch, it was time to take to the skies…

(Left: Coast Guard Auxiliary pilots board their aircraft to begin a search and rescue exercise during training at Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., June 27, 2009. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Air Station Traverse City)

The missions were held in the East Bay of the Grand Traverse Bay and the West side of the Little Traverse Bay.

Two aircraft departed to Charlevoix (CVX) supported by the Coast Guard Station Charlevoix 25’ vessel (RBS). Three aircraft remained at Cherry Capital (TVC) to operate in Grand Traverse Bay with the CG Aux vessel. The scenario was an early morning or ‘First Light Search’ that the Aux crew’s have been called on many times to conduct. After being provided the ‘search information’, the crews took the time to conduct pre-flight preparations and then headed out to the skies to look for a single person in the water (PIW), a challenging mission for the most experienced personnel to execute.

The skies were blue, the water calm, and the crew’s excited about their mission, but the genesis of the exercise was to fully prepare these professional volunteers for the worst case scenario. Therefore, a unique sense of realism was added to the scenario by establishing a mock Command Center (played by the Duty Desk at CG Air Station Traverse City). By simulating a series of realistic changes to operational tasking, the aircrews remained busy on scene with search patterns and situational awareness. The drill was able to recreate the stress of managing the flying of precision search patterns while communicating with the SAR Mission Commander. This proved to be an invaluable preparation tool for the aircrews. After seven total sorties covering two separate search areas with five aircraft, the CG Auxiliary had ‘found their person’ on each attempt proving their operational determination and abilities.

(Right: The volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary give countless hours of time and expertise to help the U.S. Coast Guard provide service to the American public. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Air Station Traverse City)

The exercise was then fully debriefed and it was noted that the success rate of crews that flew with two observers (i.e., one in the right seat and one behind the flying pilot on the left) were equally successful in finding the PIW, but did so in significantly less time. The idea of having a dedicated set of eyes outside the aircraft to back up the flying pilot (whose attention is constantly divided by other cockpit tasks) was discussed and thought by all to be a best practice, if resources are available. No doubt, after an exhausting day of training and professional development, these five aircrews stand ready to answer the call whenever needed.

Our thanks go out to the professional volunteers of the CG Air Auxiliary for devoting their free time and aircraft to improve operational capability and response effectiveness. Air Station Traverse City is honored to have so many dedicated Pilots (40) and Observers (10) with such a diverse range of civilian backgrounds, from a District Court Judge, local teacher, to retired Naval Aviators fully supporting the Coast Guard and our statutory mission responsibilities. Their professionalism, dedication and 18 aircraft ranging from single engine Cessnas and Lake Amphibians to Twin Engine Commanches are vital to our mission success.

The selfless service and professionalism from this group of individuals is humbling and their efforts have a profound positive impact on the safety and security of Great Lakes maritime commerce and recreation.”

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