Special Forces Members May Not Have Super Powers but They Do Have Super Training
Imagine for a moment that you are flying in a helicopter. For most of us, that represents an adventure that few will experience. Now add to that: you are strapped in your helicopter seat in a near hurricane, at night, over water, and you are about to crash. What will you do?
I have always loved flying and aviation. I got it from my Dad (former Air Force) and he and I could never get enough of airplane models and airshows growing up. In my adult years as a Reserve Army Chaplain, when I found out I was assigned to the 3-142nd Combat Support Aviation Battalion in Upstate New York, I could not have been more pleased. Blackhawk helicopters are really cool. When you see all that it takes to maintain, crew, and fly a helicopter you cannot help but be impressed, and those guys were good.
Recently I had the opportunity to tour the Allison Aquatic Training Facility near Fort Campbell where you can experience a helicopter crash in the water. You can actually feel the 70 mph winds. You can know the feeling of turbulent water pressuring your mouth and nose. You can sense the weight of the heavy waves. And, finally, you can ride the helicopter into the water, upside down. Then, while you are upside down, underwater, in the dark, you can unstrap yourself, escape the airframe, swim to the surface, and await rescue. I mean, who wouldn’t want to experience that?
Allison Aquatic Training Facility has an amazing staff who have dedicated themselves to giving the best training to some of our military’s most elite personnel. I will not name them here and the nicknames are my own invention. This elite Allison staff will take you step by step through how to survive a water crash.
“Big E” is a Texan who stands about 6-4 and weighs in at 280 pounds. He doesn’t have stories about playing college football but if you ask nicely he might mention the time in Iraq he went for a ride with the British Special Air Service. Before his current job, he served with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), otherwise known as the Nightstalkers. His classroom lecture is a must if you want to get out of a helicopter crash alive. He will also be sitting right beside you in the aircraft when you go underwater in the simulated crash. You think that little round escape window is too small to crawl through? Big E will go first and show you how it’s done.
The following video is not for the faint of heart, so watch it at your own risk. You are about to see the head of the facility, “The Boss,” ride the helicopter down into the water, unstrap and escape, and then make his way to the surface (it can take up to 45 seconds underwater). After The Boss signals the rescue helicopter (in this case a cable from the ceiling) he will be rescued and live to fight another day.
Our men and women in uniform are special people and they deserve the best. Knowing that something like this exists is comforting, even though most graduates with never use what they learned here. But if you ever find yourself upside down in dark, stormy waters, think back on what you learned and maybe the voice in your head of Big E and his friends will get you to the surface and home to your loved ones.
Final Note: P.S. Please don’t tell our old 3-142nd CSAB Command Seargent Major, CSM Quantock, that the Chaplain was sitting in the pilot’s seat of one of the aircraft. That’s a meeting I don’t want to have (again).