Rescue teams hone skills during Pacific Thunder 16-2

An HH-60 Pave Hawk assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, descends for a landing while a second HH-60 provides aerial coverage from above during a combat search and rescue training mission during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The two-week long exercise brought together units from around Pacific Air Forces to train aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures used for CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An HH-60 Pave Hawk assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, descends for a landing while a second HH-60 provides aerial coverage from above during a combat search and rescue training mission during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The two-week long exercise brought together units from around Pacific Air Forces to train aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures used for CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron crests over a hill while providing air coverage for a combat search and rescue team during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The two-week long combined exercise is designed to train U.S. and ROK aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures used for CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. The units and aircraft involved in the exercise include A-10s and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea; F-16s from the 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, ROK; HH-60 Pave Hawks, E-3 Sentrys, and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan; and U-2 Dragon Ladys from 7th Air Force alongside more than 200 ROK air force personnel and 22 ROKAF aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron crests over a hill while providing air coverage for a combat search and rescue team during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The two-week long combined exercise is designed to train U.S. and ROK aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures used for CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. The units and aircraft involved in the exercise include A-10s and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea; F-16s from the 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, ROK; HH-60 Pave Hawks, E-3 Sentrys, and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan; and U-2 Dragon Ladys from 7th Air Force alongside more than 200 ROK air force personnel and 22 ROKAF aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

First Lt. Sky Lesh, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, operates an emergency radio while waiting for an Air Force rescue team to pick him up during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. This two-week long exercise is designed to train and validate tactics, techniques and procedures for combat search and rescue and air suppression of enemy defenses. Lesh acted as a downed pilot for a combat search and rescue training mission, involving rescue personnel deployed here from other Pacific Air Forces units working with Team Osan. This photo has been edited for privacy reasons. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

First Lt. Sky Lesh, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, operates an emergency radio while waiting for an Air Force rescue team to pick him up during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2 in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. This two-week long exercise is designed to train and validate tactics, techniques and procedures for combat search and rescue and air suppression of enemy defenses. Lesh acted as a downed pilot for a combat search and rescue training mission, involving rescue personnel deployed here from other Pacific Air Forces units working with Team Osan. This photo has been edited for privacy reasons. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk approaches for landing during a combat search and rescue training mission in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The crew and helicopter are both assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and were deployed to the Republic of Korea for Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week long training event that combines U.S. and Republic of Korea forces to enhance interoperability for combat search and rescue missions across the Korean peninsula. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk approaches for landing during a combat search and rescue training mission in the Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The crew and helicopter are both assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and were deployed to the Republic of Korea for Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week long training event that combines U.S. and Republic of Korea forces to enhance interoperability for combat search and rescue missions across the Korean peninsula. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo/Released)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron lifts off from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The A-10 was en-route to a combat search and rescue scenario during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined exercise to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron lifts off from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The A-10 was en-route to a combat search and rescue scenario during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined exercise to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, marshals an A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 25th Fighter Squadron before a combat search and rescue exercise flight at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined training event designed to enhance the readiness of U.S. and ROK forces to defend the Korean peninsula by sustaining their capabilities.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, marshals an A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 25th Fighter Squadron before a combat search and rescue exercise flight at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined training event designed to enhance the readiness of U.S. and ROK forces to defend the Korean peninsula by sustaining their capabilities.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Maj. Gary Glojek, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, and Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepare for a combat search and rescue training flight on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week long combined exercise designed to train U.S. and ROK aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures of CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Maj. Gary Glojek, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, and Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepare for a combat search and rescue training flight on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week long combined exercise designed to train U.S. and ROK aircrews and commanders to validate tactics, techniques and procedures of CSAR and suppression of enemy air defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, cleans the canopy of an A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron before a combat search and rescue exercise flight at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined exercise that focuses on enhancing the combat readiness of U.S. and ROK forces through CSAR training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

Airman Weston Meyer, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, cleans the canopy of an A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron before a combat search and rescue exercise flight at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2016. The CSAR flight is part of Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a combined exercise that focuses on enhancing the combat readiness of U.S. and ROK forces through CSAR training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Steffen/Released)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

A-10 Thunderbolt IIs are making low passes over mountaintops, providing covering fire for two HH-60 Pave Hawks carrying Air Force rescue teams as they all coordinate to find pilots down behind enemy lines. A distress call is heard on the radio over the roaring of the rotor blades in the background as one of the Pave Hawks begins descending, blasting dust and debris in all directions.

 

Just as the helicopter is about to touch down, a young man in a flight suit jumps out of the bushes and waits for any signal to board. A thumbs up from aerial gunner is all it takes before the man climbs onboard and they are whisked away, only a few short minutes after first flying into the valley.

 

This scenario was just one of the many missions flown during Exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week long training event that combines U.S. and Republic of Korea forces to enhance interoperability for combat search and rescue missions across the Korean peninsula.

 

To accurately train for CSAR operations, this exercise made scenarios as realistic as possible and placed pilots to “rescue” on the ground.

 

During one rescue training mission, 1st Lt. Sky Lesh, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, was dropped off in a remote area while the rescue team, comprised of HH-60s from the 33rd Rescue Squadron and A-10s from the 25th FS, was tasked with finding and extracting him. The only communication equipment Lesh had was a combat survivor evader locator, which provides secure two-way, over-the-horizon data communications.

 

“I got to play the ‘objective’ today, an F-15 Eagle [pilot] that had to eject,” said Lesh.

 

Teams that execute CSAR missions are comprised of far more than the helicopters that pick up the survivors. The mission to find Lesh involved approximately 30 assets, ranging from the survival, evasion, resistance and escape personnel on the ground to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft thousands of feet in the air.

 

“It’s the entire rescue package’s job to locate and authenticate the survivor, and then we go and fight our way in and out in order to effectively pick up a downed fighter pilot who is behind enemy lines,” said Master Sgt. Vincent, 33rd RQS evaluator special mission aviator. “CSAR is one of the most complicated and dynamic tasks we can be called to do in the Air Force. We’re not trying to take out one or two targets; we’re going to an unknown area with an unknown amount of enemy threats to pick up a survivor.”

 

These exercises give rescue personnel the chance to train in a different type of environment and utilize a slew of different assets.

 

“The training and integration [we] get here is some of the best CSAR training in the world,” said Capt. Alexander Sira, 33rd RQS instructor pilot.

 

 CSAR is one of the ways the U.S. government fulfills its promise that if the worst happens during a mission, every effort will be made to find and bring personnel home. The trust in this promise is crucial in allowing military operators to execute dangerous missions, said Sira.

 

For Lesh, this exercise gave a new sense of appreciation for the effort and coordination necessary for a successful save. The rescue party circled overhead and located Lesh near a river, quickly extracted him from the area and headed back to base.

 

“It was phenomenal seeing the A-10s crest over the ridge and the [33rd RQS] Jollys rounding the bend at 50 feet,” he said. “They had no idea where I was today, but were able to work together to find me and get me out… you know you’re being saved by the good guys.”