'A-Team' A-10s, Apaches hone CSAR, CAS skills

BAUMHOLDER, Germany -- A joint close air support and combat search and rescue exercise involving U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots and U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots took place for the first time at the Baumholder Major Training Area here Jan. 23 - 26.

A-10 pilots who participated in this joint training are assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base's 81st Fighter Squadron and the AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots are assigned to Illesheim Army Airfield's Company C, the 2-159 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.

The training simulated real-life CSAR and CAS scenarios. Its purpose was to establish joint tactics, techniques, and procedures for future deployment operations.

"We frequently work with Apache pilots downrange, and the ability to train with them now allows us to sharpen our skills prior to future deployments," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Briner, 81st FS commander.

Close air support is essential to the recovery of surviving service members in CSAR situation, but nothing is accomplished on either end without proper communication, which was the focus of the exercises, explained U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Bob Carpenter, 81st FS pilot.

"It's important everyone has the same level of understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it," Carpenter said of joint rescue missions. "The survivor on the ground needs to be picked up, and if all elements aren't working like a well oiled machine, that may not happen."

Army and Air Force often work together in these rescues, but because they are from different military branches, they have different procedures, rules and even lingo. Training before real events gives them the opportunity to clear anything that may not be understood and establish joint procedures.

"The integration we're performing here is paramount training," said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Karl Metz, 2-159 ARB Apache helicopter pilot. "We're learning each other's language and tactics, and in doing so, we have a baseline to grow from for when we're actually deployed. Today we got to integrate with A-10 pilots, and the most successful piece is learning their language. I know I will deploy with A-10s, and being able to work with them now is instrumental."

The Air Force pilots who were "rescued" in this training scenario used combat survivor evader locater radios to communicate and assist the A-10 pilots performing CAS. Pilots carry these radios along with a survival kit if they have to eject themselves from their aircraft.

These radios allow those being rescued to relay to the A-10 pilots their location and what hazards are in the area. The A-10 pilots then relay this information to the Apache pilots performing CSAR, lead them to the rescue pick-up area and simulate clearing the area of enemy threats.

"We're learning different capabilities and limits of each platform, and how our different capabilities can combine our strengths in order to prosecute targets more effectively," Briner said of the two aircraft working together.

Carpenter said practicing these scenarios now ensures once these two aircraft are deployed together, they can seamlessly seek, attack and destroy any enemies trying to keep them from their most important mission: rescuing their brethren.

"We do this for the guys on the ground," Metz said. "We'll do anything it takes to get service members to safety. Our job isn't to kill - it's to keep our guys alive, and we're really good at our job."