February 8, 2009

U.S. Navy trains Virginia Guard underwater survival

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment Soldier doing water training

Sgt. 1st Class Gary McKee demonstrates his swimming abilities during the swim test portion of the underwater egress training at Norfolk Naval Air Station Feb. 7. McKee is a  helicopter crew chief in the Virginia National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs.)

NORFOLK, Va.— Pilots and aircrew of the Virginia Army National Guard participated in an underwater egress training course at the Norfolk Naval Station to prepare themselves in the event of an aircraft going down over a body of water.

More than 20 Virginia Guardsmen of the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division began training in a classroom at the Aviation Survival Training Center in Norfolk at around 8:30 a.m. Feb. 7 for a brief overview of the day-long class. During the instruction the Soldiers were given instruction on how to remain calm and stay aware of their surroundings in the event of a water landing.

With over 3,315 miles of tidal shoreline in Virginia, the risk of a water landing is a very real possibility for Virginia aviators, so they must be trained to survive such a circumstance.

“As Army aviators, we often fly over large bodies of water that are beyond “power-off” gliding distance to the shore,” said Chief Warrant Officer Virgil Hill, a helicopter pilot with the 2-224th. “An aircrew could ditch in the water, the aircraft could roll over, and they would need to know the fundamental of how to get out of that aircraft and survive.”

Following the classroom instruction, the aviators and crewmen were ushered to the poolside where they were administered a test of their swimming capabilities. The test gauged the individual’s basic swimming skills by forcing them to demonstrate their ability to swim from one side of the pool to the other, tread water and immerse their faces under the water.

2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment Soldiers

Soldiers enter the water while strapped in to the seats of the Modular Egress Training System. Once under water, the Soldiers unstrapped from their seats and safely swam to the surface. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs.)

Once deemed sea-worthy by the U.S. Navy instructors, the aviators proceeded to their first station; Shallow Water Egress Training. During the SWET, the participant is placed in a chair that rests on the surface of the water. An instructor stands waist deep on either side of the chair and dunks the individual in to the water. While inverted underwater, the trainees had to free themselves from the chair’s harness and then find the best path out of the notional aircraft to safety.

To move on to the next phase of the course the students completed SWET during both day and night operations while wearing a flight suit, a vest and their boots. To simulate a nighttime environment the instructors issued goggles that are blacked out with paint.

Upon completion of SWET the class moved to the Modular Egress Training System, often referred to as “the dunker.” METS is designed to simulate a helicopter entering the water. The Warriors strapped into the seats of the METS, and were then lowered into the deep end of the water.

Commonly during a waterborne landing, the aircraft will flip over underwater, so once in the water the device inverted itself and the pilots and crew were forced to free themselves from the aircraft. Certified divers were under the water to assist incase a Soldier could not free themselves in time.

As with the SWET, the Soldiers also had to complete the METS in both day and night scenarios. The class was again provided with “blackout” goggles to create a nighttime effect.

Finally, after several hours of training with only their lungs to provide them oxygen while submerged, the instructors trained the students with a supplemental emergency breathing device.

The SEBD, which looks like a miniature SCUBA tank that can fit into a pocket, is equipment adapted by the military to increase the chances of survival for aircrew trapped in an aircraft which has crashed into a body of water.

Being citizen-Soldiers, the National Guard is often placed in situations that are far from predictable. “Being this close to the ocean, to the rivers, we may be called to pull someone out of the water sometime, hurricanes things like that,” said Sgt. William Hatch, a crew chief  in the 2-224th. “Its real good training for us because you never know what you’re gonna do.”

ASTC Norfolk is a directorate of the Naval Survival Training Institute. Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. serving as the Training Agent for Aviation Survival Training and the subject matter experts on all military operational medicine. ASTC Norfolk provides and meets the aviation survival and safety requirements of all Naval Aviation and Department of Defense activities. Through didactic classroom or squadron lectures, simulator devices and a curriculum that emphasizes hands-on exposure.

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