KIN BLUE, Okinawa, Japan -- A downed pilot is hiding deep in the jungle, attempting to stay hidden from enemy forces in hostile territory. His survival depends upon many factors, one being the capabilities of the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel team.
Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's TRAP Team, consisting of aircraft from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and infantrymen from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, conducted a mock rescue of a downed pilot here, July 27.
“In addition to the robust capabilities resident within the (Marine Expeditionary Unit), there are a number of contingencies for which we must be prepared,” said Lt. Col. Brian Hawkins, the operations officer for the 31st MEU. “One of the most likely contingencies a MEU may be required to handle is a ‘downed aircraft’ scenario.”
Whether the downed aircraft belongs to the Marine Corps, another U.S. service or even another nation’s military in the Asia Pacific, the MEU will often be in the closest proximity to the crash site, making the 31st MEU the fastest response force available, according to Hawkins.
In order to respond to such an immediate task, the 31st MEU's TRAP team remains on a constant state of readiness during operations. Within minutes of notification, the entire force can be mobilized for transport.
CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters are used to insert the team, while UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Cobra helicopters provide aerial security.
The size of the ground force depends on the scope of the mission, but is always comprised of specialized teams for their specific task. Security teams carry heavy weapons like the 240G Machine Gun for defense, search teams canvass the area to locate isolated personnel, support teams augment wherever needed, and the headquarters team directs the effort.
Proper coordination of these specialized elements is essential to a successful recovery.
“The recovery team has to make quick and important decisions on the ground, with the intention of accomplishing our task proficiently,” said Staff Sgt. Branden D. Kunath, platoon sergeant for the TRAP force ground element.
Speed is also crucial in the successful conduct of a TRAP mission, as a myriad of factors influence the survival of isolated personnel.
Due to the violent nature of an aircraft crash, there is a chance the pilot requires immediate medical attention. The potential for a quick reaction of enemy forces to capture the downed pilot also pushes the TRAP team to act swiftly.
“We rush into the objective point, set up and begin searching,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Escamilla, a motorman with the TRAP ground force and a native of Moses Lake, Wash. “We're hoping that after just 30 minutes on the deck searching, we can recover the pilot and evacuate him out safely.”
Training scenarios like the one performed improve the speed and efficiency of the TRAP team, and also strengthens the coordination between the ground and air element, according to Kunath.
As with all other training the 31st MEU conducts, the most important benefit is the rise in readiness for theater security operations.
“The training for this scenario that we conduct during our MEU workup ensures that, if the time comes, we are capable of responding efficiently and effectively under any conditions,” said Hawkins.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region.