Force support squadron, training for success

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

The 341st Force Support Squadron conducted a search and recovery exercise June 12, 2019. 

Airmen from the squadron gathered to learn the ins and outs of how to properly search, recover, identify and document remains, portions and effects associated with search and recovery operations. 

“This is a core responsibility of the FSS community,” said Maj. Samantha Miller, 341st FSS commander. “We practice to gain proficiency in case we are required to serve in a real-world scenario.”

The exercise simulated an aircraft crash site, requiring the Airmen to walk the scene in a line formation to search the terrain for any remains of individuals or parts of the notional aircraft. This is called the search phase. 

The search phase has the Airmen wear personal protective equipment as they would in real life. PPE includes, but is not limited to, latex gloves, respirators, and hazardous materials suits to combat blood-borne pathogens; equipment such as steel-toe boots or toe-caps; and various chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare protective items. 

“Besides conducting a respectful recovery of remains, our main focus today is to ensure the safety, mental health and mission readiness of our Airmen,” said Capt. Christopher Truelove, 341st FSS operations office and installation mortuary official. 

Part of the training includes what is called the “eight T’s”, which are time, terrain, temperature, trajectory, threats, transportation, teams and training. All of these factors come into play when operations call for a SAR. Additionally, the endeavor would demand a multi-agency approach including U.S. Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, installation safety, medical services, legal assistance, civil engineers and chaplain coordination – that’s just at the installation level. 

Airmen in the simulated environment included those who had experienced real-world SARs, those who had been through previous training and those who were brand-new to the experience. 

Another imperative part of SAR operations is Critical Incident Stress Management. It is vital that Airmen who experience something potentially traumatic get the help and services they need to safely handle that stress.

“You may not feel it right away,” said Miller. “But, maybe later that day, or when you’re trying to go to sleep later that night, you could feel it. It is important to raise your hand and say, ‘Hey, I need help.’”

“Stress repressed becomes stress expressed,” Truelove added. 

The search phase also includes ensuring all identifications made are marked with flags, are recorded in a ledger, photographed, and latitude and longitude coordinates are documented. After all of these actions have been completed, the recovery phase will begin.  

The recovery phase includes caretaking of the items for evidence or delivery to the appropriate areas as part of funeral services for the deceased. All of this is handled with the utmost care, respect, and professionalism of force support Airmen. 

“Thoroughness, communication and safety are our main concerns when achieving respectful recovery of remains and effects,” said Master Sgt. Chad Hepworth, 341st FSS flight chief and team lead for the exercise.