Combating to saves lives: Combined Test Force puts gear through paces

  • Published
  • By by Staff Sgt. Jacob R. McCarthy
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
As the Nevada sun begins its crawl behind the Spring Mountains, three ground-crew specialists adorned with night-vision goggles crack glow sticks and scatter them in a large pattern along the desert floor. On a large sand bar not far away, video crews erect night-vision cameras under a blanket of southern stars. Then, in the pitch of night, the desert silence is broken as a radio crackles and the whole valley is filled with the gust of warm rotor wash.

It's week two of field testing for a collective team of combat search and rescue professionals from the Combat Search and Rescue Combined Test Force. Tonight's objective -- put a new piece of CSAR equipment through its "night ops" paces.

The most recent system scheduled to be brought online Air Force-wide is the Sked Complete Rescue System litter. The system places another resource in the tool bag of the Guardian Angel weapon system to execute missions effectively.

CSAR specialists are constantly looking for the most optimal pieces of equipment to save lives more effectively. The Sked is a sturdy, yet flexible plastic litter. It folds around victims, securing them to the litter better, said CC Cunningham, CSAR CTF senior technician.

Compared to the current litter being used by CSAR specialists, the Sked looks to be a better choice, said Mr. Cunningham. "The Sked is easier to carry and transport. It slides on and off the helicopter easier," he continued.

Another useful device that puts people and equipment in place faster is the fast rope descender repelling system. The small, light-weight, hand-carried, fast rope attachment allows pararescue specialists, known as PJ's, to repel into the hot zone while carrying heavy loads -- loads like communication equipment, additional gear and supplies, even motorcycles and police canine teams.

"The FRD allows PJ's to insert themselves and gear faster. They can even get people down who've never fast roped before by allowing the PJ to control the descent," said Mr. Cunningham.

The Sked and FRD, pronounced "Fred," have the advantage of maintaining backwards compatibility. Both systems are deployable on any and all aircraft in the CSAR arsenal.

Combat search and rescue specialists and those they rescue stand to benefit most from advances like the Sked and FRD

Air Force combat search and rescue teams are sent out to retrieve a multitude of servicemembers from hostile areas like forward deployed locations throughout Southwest Asia. In addition to accomplishing military objectives, CSAR teams also dedicate a large amount of time to civilian search and rescue, emergency medical evacuations and disaster relief to name a few.

Delivering battlefield-ready solutions to troops in the field takes a large amount of coordination.

All testing begins with a spin-up phase, explained Mr. Cunningham. Evaluation teams begin by orienting themselves with the equipment and gauging its operability, he continued.

"We look at timing, location and suitability concerns. Then we spend time on the training tower, conducting dry runs. Finally concluding with time on the aircraft with the equipment," said the 20-year CSAR veteran.

After spin-up is complete, teams conduct a series of day and night tests to help simulate the extreme conditions CSAR teams put their equipment through. The battlefield is no place for testing.

"To get a true picture and understanding of global application, CSAR teams must test equipment in a variety of conditions," explained Mr. Cunningham.

The gear used by CSAR specialists is only as good as the Airmen using it. So to make sure the Airmen in the field are as up-to-date as those testing the equipment, the CTF has a designated training program for everyone in the career field. Through a combination of on-site and classroom-style training, PJ's train PJ's on the in's and out's of life saving with new toys.

Throughout the years, advanced gear has helped CSAR specialists save thousands of lives at home and abroad. But the skills of such a feat rest solely in the hands who serve, keeping the motto alive -- "These things we do that others may live."