VAQ 139 Flyers get surprise search and rescue training

By LTJG Brandon Hill-Rogers, VAQ-139 Public Affairs Officer

On Feb. 28, Lt. Austin Howard and Lt. Ronald Novak thought they were going to be the first flight event of the day for Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139. However, once fully dressed in their flight gear, they were met by Lt. James Salassi, assistant director of the Aviation Survival Training Center (ASTC) on board Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and members of NASWI Search and Rescue, who informed them that they would be participants in a SAR exercise.

“We were only allowed to have what was currently on us and in our helmet bags, as it would be if we had ejected,” Howard said.

This exercise allowed aircrew from VAQ-139 to assess their readiness for a cold weather ejection scenario, practice using issued survival gear, and simulate coordinating with ground and/or air-based SAR units in a controlled environment.

During this exercise, members of NASWI SAR flew Howard and Novak to a remote location in one of their MH-60S SAR helicopters. Once there, they practiced skills all naval aircrewmen must continually hone for use in a search and rescue situation. These exercises included navigation, communication, first aid, fire building and shelter construction.

“We encourage aircrew to put hands on all their gear and really dig through it to see what they have and all the different uses each piece can be utilized for,” said Salassi. “At the Aviation Survival Training Center, we go through survival gear as best as possible, but aircrew never really gets to use it in a practical kind of way. In a way in which their life depended on it. Blow air in your g-suit for extra insulation. Sleep inside your raft and use your parachute on your shelter to keep rain or snow off you. All of these little tips were driven home during this exercise, and the two aircrew involved were open minded and had great positive mental attitude, which are two things that increase survival odds like you wouldn’t believe. LTJG Tristan Alston also played an important role in coordinating this exercise.”

Whidbey Island is an environment with variables that can make rescue, communication and survival quite difficult, such as cold water and mountainous terrain. At the conclusion of the exercise, Lt. Howard and Lt. Novak remarked on the value of the training and how they can continue to improve the realism and applicability of these exercises.

Howard added “it was an incredible opportunity to exercise atrophied survival muscles with the help and guidance of SAR and the physiology team.”

“Exercises like these are an opportunity for aircrew to assess their readiness for the unthinkable” said Lt. Cmdr. Cheryl Griswold, aeromedical safety officer (AMSO) for Commander, Electronic Attack Wing Pacific (CVWP). “No one wants to think about ejecting, but if you did, are you prepared? These exercises are a reality check, an opportunity to promulgate lessons observed and build bridges between local units. Without the support of NASWI SAR, the Aviation Survival Training Center, and a forward leaning squadron like the Cougars of [Electronic Attack Squadron] VAQ-139, these events would not be successful.”

“It was an awesome opportunity to use the gear we would have in a real-life scenario,” said Novak. “The SAR team was fantastic and I would definitely do it again!”

“It is always fun when we get to work with the people we are here to support, particularly when it involves putting them in the snow to highlight the importance of being prepared!” said Lt. Erin Hittle of NAS Whidbey Island SAR.

So far this year, the NASWI SAR unit has conducted 13 Medical Evacuations (MEDEVACs), two rescues, and one search, totaling 15 lives delivered to a higher level of care. In 2016, the unit conducted 51 missions including 14 MEDEVACS, 24 rescues, and 13 searches totaling 53 lives delivered to a higher level of care.

The Cougars of VAQ-139 are a carrier based Electronic Attack squadron, tasked with providing support to strike fighters and ground assets to deny and degrade the adversary’s ability to use radar and communications. The Cougars are currently preparing for an upcoming deployment on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

More in Crosswind

Joel Atienza’s uniform’s USAF/USSF patches prior to transfer. Photo provided
Oak Harbor 2010 grad selected for U.S. Space Force

Joel Atienza’s advice to Space Force hopefuls? “Remember, ‘The sky is not the limit.’”

Capt. Robert Miles, retired U.S. Navy, served in active duty for more than two decades before teaching Oak Harbor High School students leadership, confidence and practical skills through Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Here he is pictured throughout his career. Photo courtesy Jason Lamont
Oak Harbor NJROTC alums come together to honor mentor

Capt. Robert Miles had a lasting impact on his NJROTC students at Oak Harbor High School.

A Hero for All Time: Research reveals a decorated former Fort Casey soldier

Coupeville woman writes book about local WWI soldier who gained Col. George S. Patton’s admiration.

Curious about World War I memorial, woman researches the names set in stone

A WWI memorial in front of the Island County courthouse honors eight men who died in service.

The men and women of the VAQ-132 Scorpions gather for a photo during a change of command ceremony April 5 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. (photo provided)
Scorpions hold change of command at NAS Whidbey

Cmdr. Kerry “Beagle” Hicks was relieved by Cmdr. Marcus “Oompa” Kephart as… Continue reading

Growler squadron, Whidbey business owner partner to light up hangar

The “Gauntlets” of VAQ-136 hung a large sign to mark the Growler squadron’s 50th anniversary.

World War II vet will be featured in Navy League’s virtual Veterans Day event

A World War II from Freeland reflects on memories from his time in service.

Golden Swordsmen reach halfway point in deployment

The Golden Swordsmen of Patrol Squadron Four Seven, based at Naval Air… Continue reading

Lt. Nick Woods, attached to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, controls a Mark II Talon remotely operated vehicle (ROV) during a Certification Exercise (CERTEX) on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., July 16. Elements of EODMU-1 and EODMU-5 qualified as ready for future operational deployments during the CERTEX, which centered on integrating the two units’ Sailors with a goal of building a cohesiveness that will help them counter undersea threats and contribute to winning the high-end fight once deployed in support of Navy and geographic combatant command mission priorities. U.S. Navy EOD is the world’s premier combat force for eliminating explosive threats so the Fleet and nation can fight and win wherever, whenever and however it chooses. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marc Cuenca/Released
Ordnance training held off Whidbey

U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One from San Diego and… Continue reading

Whidbey SAR conducts life-saving missions

A Search and Rescue (SAR) team from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island… Continue reading

VA surgical care better than or equal to non-VA hospitals, according to new study

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today announced that VA hospitals outperform or… Continue reading

New tenant command at NAS Whidbey
New tenant command at NAS Whidbey

The Navy stood up its newest tenant command, Tactical Operations Control Squadron,… Continue reading