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117th Air Refueling Wing Performs Water Survival Training

Airmen prepare for water survival training.

Airmen from Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base perform water survival training at Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Sept. 19, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Bentley)

Pelham, Ala. -- Aircrew from Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base went to Oak Mountain State Park to train in water survival.

They used the lake to simulate the conditions airmen could encounter in the event of an emergency water landing. They underwent an entire simulated emergency scenario so that they can be prepared for any situation.

“They have exiting the aircraft, swimming techniques, correctly boarding the life raft, getting all of their gear secured to the life raft itself. From there they can signal for rescue in various ways: radio, flairs, sea dye packets,” said Tech. Sgt. James Campbell, 99th Air Refueling Squadron Flight Equipment Continuation Training Instructor.

After these preliminary steps the crew must adapt to the environment, whether that means huddling together for warmth, letting some air out to lower the raft’s center of gravity in rough seas, or preparing for extraction by sea or helicopter.

The raft has a tarp cover for shade which has different-colored sides, each serving a different purpose. The brightly colored side can face outwards for situations in which the goal is to be spotted by friendly forces. It can be flipped over so a dark side faces outward. If the crew is in hostile territory and needs to avoid being seen they can flip the dark side up and get it wet and shiny, making it blend in with the ocean. The tarp can also be used as a sail.

When out of the raft airmen are taught three ways to swim: the front stroke, back stroke and side stroke. They are also trained to form a floating human chain, preventing members from getting lost and enabling them to perform a head count.

“If they aren’t caught up with training, they might not be able to fly,” Campbell said. “With the panic, if you’re not ready to go it could become a life threatening situation.”

Aircrew must perform water survival training twice a year.

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