FALLS OF ROUGH, Ky. --
Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard set up a training site here July 16 to simulate the recovery and repatriation of fallen service members.
The 123rd Airlift Wing’s Services Flight sent a total of 13 troops for the training, which was designed to prepare them to respond to real-world disasters, said Capt. Jonathan Fairbanks, the mission’s officer-in-charge.
The Airmen, all part of the wing’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team, began their three-day scenario by establishing a base camp at Rough River Dam State Resort Park.
FSRT leadership used the “crawl, walk, run” concept throughout the mission, Fairbanks explained. The troops spent the first two days setting up supplies, troubleshooting equipment and sitting through classroom training. The Airmen then showcased their knowledge on the third day with hands-on execution by simulating the recovery of deceased service members in a chemically hazardous environment.
Not only were the troops challenged physically by their cumbersome protective suits and equipment, but they also had to be mentally “fit-to-fight” in order to successfully complete the mission, Fairbanks said.
“We go out, we recover those that have lost their lives and we’re trying to bring them back with dignity to their loved ones,” Fairbanks said. “That’s what this mission does. So these guys go out, and when they operate, I just want them to keep that in the back of their minds; that there is a bigger purpose here.”
The Grayson County Coroner and a representative from local law enforcement were also on hand to observe capabilities the Airmen can offer the community.
Fairbanks emphasized not only the importance of the mission, but also his Airmen’s ability to completely sustain themselves. The team prepared its own meals, and supplied its own tents, electricity and transportation.
While working at least 14 hours a day, the FSRT also ran the gamut of hazardous terrain, according to Senior Airman Sara Hozian, an exercise team leader.
“I think the most difficult challenge is getting suited up, having long hours and going through the different types of terrain,” Hozian said.
“There are rock hazards and chemical hazards we have to deal with. We have floods and any kind of natural disaster you can think of. No matter what has happened, we will go through it and do our job.
“We don’t mess around. We want to get this job done, and we want to do it safely and securely,” she added. “This isn’t a glamorous job, but we’re bringing people home.”