BY STAFF SGT. MIKE ALBERTS – MARINE CORPS BASE-KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – Escaping from a submerged helicopter while upside down, wearing battle gear and restrained by a seat belt with a multi-point harness can be difficult.
Given the amount of time the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) flies and trains over water, it’s a scenario for which its helicopter pilots and air crews must be thoroughly prepared.
The first 37 pilots and air crew members from both 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and 3rd Battalion, 25th General Support Aviation Battalion, 25th CAB, completed a multi-day water survival and egress training program at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, the first week of November. It is not only a training program required by Army aviation, but also one prioritized by 25th CAB leadership.
According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Roland, standardization officer, 25th CAB, the Army requires air crews who conduct [**removed the word certain**] overwater flights to wear a life preserver. Flights that need the use of a life preserver also require air crews to be qualified using the following systems and equipment: Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET), Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS), commonly referred to as “Dunker,” and an Emergency Breathing System, commonly referred to as “HEEDs.”
“The brigade’s goal is to ensure that 100 percent of our flight crews are Dunker HEEDs qualified and current,” said Roland. “To ensure we provide our crews with all the tools and training necessary to deal with a [helicopter] ditching situation, we send them through the rigorous water survival and egress training program at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay (K-Bay).”
The K-Bay training is a two-day course with two four-hour sessions of academic instruction and two four-hour practical application sessions. Soldiers of the 25th CAB participated in an expanded program over parts of three days due to extraneous scheduling.
According to Mr. Michael Davis, principal instructor and site manager, Katmai Government Services, the academics cover a variety of topics, to include hazards of overwater flight; compressed air breathing; the identification, signs and symptoms of compressed air injuries; techniques for underwater egress; information on different aircraft types and configurations; and the fundamentals of water surface survival once a passenger escapes an aircraft, as well as other topics.
“The first practical application session includes breath-hold and compressed air escapes, and training in the Shallow Water Egress Trainer or SWET Chair,” said Davis. “The SWET chair floats in shallow water and our instructors supervise students getting comfortable breathing compressed air and working on egress procedures. After SWET, the final application session is in the Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer (MAET) or helicopter ‘Dunker,’” he explained.
The MAET Dunker simulates what may happen in a real helicopter crash. During the Dunker portion of the training students participate in six “dunks” where each student is seat-belted into the simulator while it is submerged and flipped upside down.
“Each student experiences six ‘ditches’ in the Dunker as we call it with compressed air,” he said. “Each iteration differs in terms of the nature of equipment and gear they are wearing, and where and how they egress. The final run requires each student to move across the cabin, wearing combat equipment and blacked out goggles so that they are essentially blind, and then remove that combat equipment and escape, all while breathing compressed air.
“It’s tough, but we have them do it for one reason,” he added. “It improves [Soldier] survivability, plain and simple.”
Two of those 25th CAB Soldiers who completed the training were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tyson Martin, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot, 2-6 Cav., and Spc. Christian Grose, crew chief, 3-25 GSAB. Both agreed that the training was extremely beneficial.
“Everyone who has an opportunity to [receive] the training should take it, regardless of whether you fly in helicopters [or not]. It trains you to [remain calm] underwater and to find a way out which is valuable if you’re in a helicopter that goes down in water or any other vehicle for that matter,” said Martin. “Without a doubt, this training will save lives.”
“Being in the water, upside down, with water going up your nose and into your sinuses is extremely disorienting,” added Grose. “But the course gives me the confidence that now when we do fly and train over water, I know not only can I survive, but also that I can help others survive as well.”
Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts is with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs