KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Proactive beats reactive in the
military, especially when preparing for the worst-case-scenario. In
the world of aviation, preparation to react to a downed aircraft can
mean the difference between life and death for the crew and
Twenty-two members of Task Force Raptor's downed
aircraft recovery team strengthened their technical abilities and
communication skills while training on scrap vehicles on Kandahar
Airfield, Afghanistan, June 22, 2014.
The Raptor DART
program, led by TF Bellator and consisting of Soldiers from every
battalion, is responsible for extracting personnel from a downed
aircraft using high-powered equipment.
Soldiers on the Task Force Raptor downed aircraft recovery team
practice using a gas-powered saw on a scrap pickup truck June 22,
2014 on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. DART squads respond to
incidents that require specialized tools to extract personnel from
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)
“Everybody is excited because they're on DART ... their
unit has that much trust and confidence in that we'll
accomplish the mission,” said Staff Sgt. Erik E. Lopez, an
aviation hydraulics repair noncommissioned officer and DART
Lopez, a native of Phoenix, was one of
three personnel who started the program and now, along with
other instructors, is responsible for selecting and training
members who can handle extreme situations based around
various helicopter airframes.
Soldiers are selected
for the additional duty based on a high-proficiency in their
military occupational specialty. Some Soldiers volunteered
in support of the aerial mission in southern Afghanistan.
“On my first deployment, I focused on becoming
proficient at my job,” said Spc. Justin R. Corwin, a TF
Bellator aircraft powertrain mechanic. “Now, I'm trying to
take a step forward in my career and try something new.
"I volunteered for DART because I have experience in my
shop on multiple airframes, so I have a general idea on
disassembling an aircraft and with what's safe and not
Instructors pushed their new members outside
their comfort zones by putting dangerous tools in their
hands and reinforcing the urgency of removing people from a
“The objective we had was
to teach these guys how to think on their feet. We used the
concept, ‘Treat it as if it were your own family member
stuck in the vehicle. What would you do to get them out of
that vehicle?'” Lopez stated. “You have to think of it in
that aspect so when you get to the site.”
were introduced to using basic tools such as a crowbar and
sledgehammer, as well as heavy-duty equipment to pierce
through tougher conditions.
“We used the Jaws of Life
and portable gasoline saws to teach these guys how to cut
certain joints of an aircraft to make it easier to pull a
pilot or passengers out of a downed aircraft,” Lopez said.
Two pickup trucks with smashed-in doors were presented
for groups to rotate through until nothing remained except a
pile of random pieces.
“As far as material goes, it
varies depending on the type of aircraft. On an aircraft,
you deal with a lot of composite and titanium so the way it
burns is different,” Lopez pointed out. “With the vehicles
we used, it was a lot harder because it gave them an
opportunity to think of how to approach it instead of us
saying, ‘Cut here, cut there.'”
“Every type of
vehicle has a frame, so working on the trucks helped us
think about working on the cockpit of Black Hawks, Apaches
and other airframes,” added Corwin, a native of Fresno,
Once Soldiers became familiar with the
basic use of each tool, groups had to learn how to work
together by using the appropriate tool at the right time.
“The Jaws of Life is a very heavy piece of equipment.
It's very powerful and slow moving,” Corwin said. “You can
lift it but when actually trying to use it in a precise
area, you need two operators.”
“Everybody has to
learn how to communicate because, if I'm holding the saw and
he's got the crowbar, I'm thinking where I have to cut and
where I'm going to need help. I also have to be telling my
guy where to pull,” Lopez added.
unrecognizable vehicles continued to be tossed into a pile
as Soldiers became comfortable with the crunching power of
the Jaws of Life as well as the fireworks of sparks produced
by the saw.
“As the day progressed, they got to
understand the limits of the tools, how to use them, and
they were thinking about where they needed to be by this
point instead of looking at the instructor,” Lopez said.
Two piles of scrap metal sat where two trucks once
existed in the morning. Soldiers who started the day with
uncertainty ended feeling accomplished about the serious
task they might have to perform.
“People should stay
open-minded and think about doing it more as a civil service
to help your brothers and sisters in arms. It's a bad
situation that nobody wants to do but has to be done,”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis
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