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Rescue Airmen partner with Canadians for search-and-rescue training

by Staff Sgt. Anna-Marie Wyant
920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

8/6/2012 - COMOX, Canada -- Approximately 30 Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., traveled to Canada July 15-22 to train alongside and strengthen partnerships with Royal Canadian Air Force search-and-rescue technicians, known as SAR techs, and their support personnel. The SAR techs from our nation's northern neighbor share the motto and other similarities with 920th RQW Airmen, but there are differences from which each side can learn.

"The purpose [of the training] was to work with our Canadian brethren, the SAR techs, see how they do business, show them how we do business, and just have a great exercise," said Master Sgt. Wes Hufnagel, pararescueman and Blue Team noncommissioned officer in charge for the 920th RQW's 308th Rescue Squadron.

The rescue Airmen participated in a search-and-rescue exercise, or SAREX, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, with personnel from the 435th Transport and Rescue Squadron from Winnipeg, Ontario, and 440th Transport Squadron from Yellowknife. The 920th RQW and Canadian rescue personnel hold three SAREXs together each year: two in Canada and one in Key West, Fla.

Lt. Col. Desmond Brophy, 440th Squadron commanding officer, thanked the participation for their involvement in the SAREX and commended them for their commitment to rescue and supporting each other.

"Two great countries that share an arctic coast, that share control of airspace and maritime domain access, worked hand in hand and lockstep, not only to ensure the security of our two great countries, but to look after the safety of their citizens," Brophy said. "By conducting this SAREX, we have demonstrated the commitment and the ability to do search and rescue in the North."

Sgt. Joel Manaigre, a SAR Tech with 435 Squadron, said though the SAR Tech domestic search and rescue mission differs from the pararescueman, or PJ, mission, which is predominantly combat search and rescue, they both have similar principles. He said he learns a lot from training with his American counterparts and has the highest respect for them.

"Information, especially medical, changes all the time," said Manaigre, who has participated in three SAREXs with the 920th RWQ. "I may see the PJs do something different or new, and I might like that and want to use it on my next mission. It's a great learning environment; we love training with the PJs. "

The rescue Airmen also traveled to Comox, British Columbia, to practice free-fall and static-line jumps with the 442nd Transport and Rescue Squadron based there. Rescue Airmen from both sides of the longest unprotected border in the world built and fostered positive working relationships with each other while sharing tactics, techniques and procedures.

Hufnagel said the PJs got great training from their jumps with the 442nd Squadron.

"One of the things that was good for us was the confined drop zones we jumped into. We don't normally do that on home station, so it was definitely good to get exposed to that," said Hufnagel, who has participated in five SAREXs.

The PJs also got to use new gear known as tree suits, which SAR Techs wear to protect themselves if they need to jump into an area with a high density of trees.

"I don't think any of these guys have ever done that, so it was definitely a good thing," Hufnagel said of trying out the bright orange tree suits.

Master Warrant Officer Gavin Lee, SAR tech leader of the 442nd Squadron, said whenever PJs and SAR techs train together, all personnel involved benefit.

"It's imperative in this day and age that we get together and learn each other's skills and find out some of the weaknesses in the systems where [PJs] can improve or we can improve," Lee said. "It's important for us to gather as much information as possible and train together so we're on the same page."

He said the partnership between PJs and SAR techs has been great in not only training and real world missions but also when either side gives the ultimate sacrifice, living up to and dying by their shared motto, "that others may live."

"We're there for moral support; we've been to the funerals for PJs, and they've come to ours," Lee said. "We've lost some members over the years, which is quite unfortunate, but it's the nature of the job, and it's absolutely outstanding to see that [PJ] beret walk into a [SAR tech] funeral. "We might not even know the guy, but they know we're SAR techs, we know they're PJs, and it's just instant brotherhood."

Lee and Hufnagel agreed that regularly training together is a give-and-take, win-win situation for both sides, and they believe it is essential to build good camaraderie and strong partnerships for PJs and SAR techs of all experience levels.

Senior Airman Kristopher Tomes, the newest 308th RQS PJ to participate in this SAREX and training, said he learned a great deal from working with the SAR techs for the first time.

"Besides combat, the SAR techs do everything we do," Tomes said. "It's good to know there's other forces like us who cover various aspects of rescue from mountain to water and more. I learned they're a little different with certain procedures such as time calls before jumps, jumping styles, and certain equipment."

Tomes said he respects the SAR techs' experience and professionalism, and he looks forward to learning more and working with his Canadian counterparts again in the future.

"I'd trust the SAR techs with my life one hundred percent if anything were to happen," Tomes said. "It's a brotherhood, and it's good to train with each other so we're always learning."

The 920th RQW is Air Force Reserve Command's only combat search-and-rescue wing.

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