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Fort Eustis takes new approach with crash exercise

By Tech. Sgt. Katie Gar Ward | 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 18, 2017

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va — Home to more than eight Department of Defense installations from each branch of service, Hampton Roads is constantly supporting military operations by air, land and sea.

According to the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the region boasts 36 military aircraft squadrons. Whether a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from Langley Air Force Base, a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook from Fort Eustis, or U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets from Naval Air Station Oceana, the region’s skies are rarely void of military aircraft traffic.

Recognizing this high air-operations tempo, Fort Eustis conducted a helicopter crash exercise, July 13, 2017, to sustain its readiness in responding to real-world emergencies.

But, this exercise had a twist—it wasn’t one of the Army’s helicopters that crashed. It was an H-60 Seahawk assigned to nearby Norfolk Naval Station.

The decision to integrate a Navy aircraft into the exercise scenario was based on their frequency at Fort Eustis’ Felker Army Airfield.

“About 75 to 80 percent of our daily aircraft count are Navy helicopters here for training missions,” said John R. Musser III, Felker Army Airfield manager. “You want to prepare for all scenarios, and hopefully it never happens, but if the majority of aircraft in and out of the airfield are from the Navy, you certainly want to exercise for that particular emergency scenario.”

According to Randall Renaud, 633rd Air Base Wing Inspector General exercise program manager, an installation is typically tested on managing the aftermath of its own aircraft crashing. What was unique about this exercise, he said, was evaluating the notification, response and recovery actions that would occur if the aircraft belonged to a different branch of service.

“This brings a whole different aspect to it,” said Renaud. “In a real-world situation, it would take more time and planning if another service was involved. Our first responders here would respond no matter whose aircraft it was, but after the fire is put out and any casualties are triaged, we (would) turn the scene over to the Navy for the investigation piece, and offer support where needed.”

Once the aircraft was identified as a Navy asset, emergency support function personnel simulated coordination with their Navy counterparts on actions ranging from investigations, security, casualty assistance and public affairs.

“Since this doesn’t happen very often, we don’t have a whole lot of experience there,” said Mike Feckner, 633rd ABW IG director of inspections. “Working with another service during this type of an emergency is not normal to us, but we need to explore it. They have their own procedures that we need to be familiar with so we don’t hinder their response efforts.”

Feckner said because this was the first time Fort Eustis has incorporated a third service’s aircraft, a majority of the actions between emergency support counterparts were simulated. In future exercises, he said the goal is to fully integrate and conduct the exercise together.

Although no installation hopes to ever implement any aircraft-crash procedures, conducting exercises such as this helps solidify response actions and prepare personnel for the possibility of an emergency.

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