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PJs reconnect, train with Canadian counterparts

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Seven members from the 129th Rescue Wing, including a combat rescue officer, four pararescuemen and two parachute riggers, trained with the 442nd Transport and Rescue Squadron on Vancouver Island in Comox, British Columbia, June 21 to 27.

"The goal of the trip was to connect and reestablish ties with the Canadian rescue forces," said Capt. Damon Foss, a combat rescue officer from the 131st Rescue Squadron and project officer for the trip. "In the past we would participate in search and rescue exercises with the Canadians, but after 9/11, the joint training ceased because of our high operations tempo."

The 129th PJs linked up with the 442nd Transport and Rescue Squadron, a Royal Canadian Air Force rescue unit based out of Comox. The primary role of 442nd is the provision of aviation resources in support of the Rescue Coordination Center in the Victoria Search and Rescue Region, according to the unit's Web site. The squadron operates a CC-115 Buffalo fixed wing aircraft and CH-149 Cormorant helicopter. Both aircraft are fit for search and rescue missions in rugged terrain.

According to Captain Foss, the Canadian search and rescue technicians, or SAR Techs, are similar to Air Force pararescuemen, but are conventional rescue professionals - they do not perform combat search and rescue missions.

The 129th contingent and the 442nd had planned a robust exercise but the training events were scaled back due to real world rescue missions and inclement weather, Captain Foss said. But the training was still worthwhile as the rugged outdoors of British Columbia provided the ultimate location for high-angle mountain climbing and swift water rescue training.

For the high-angle rescue training, the group traveled to nearby Lake Comox where there's a 2,000 feet, multi-pitch ridge called "Devil's Ladder." This was ideal for technical rescue training, which involved using ropes and pulley systems.

"It was the perfect place to train because the location was close to the 442nd, and all of the components needed for a high-angle scenario were available," said 129th pararescueman, Tech. Sgt. Sean Kirsch. "Devil's Ladder was also high enough to feel like a real-world rescue situation."

"It was great to train with the Canadians because they bring different backgrounds and knowledge to the table," he added.

The idyllic training conditions coupled with the 442nd's extensive experience provided valuable training tips that can't be picked up in the classroom at formal training schools.

"In this type of environment you can glean little tricks while watching how people tackle problems. It gives you a different perspective," Capt. Foss said.

After two days of high-angle rescue training, the PJs and SAR Techs moved on to swift water rescue training. Working out of the Puntledge River, east of Lake Comox, they used snag lines and rafts to simulate complex rescue scenarios.

Overall, the PJs anticipate that the exchanges will become a regular occurrence. Not only do the 129th Airmen gain valuable training, but the Canadians do as well. "The SAR tech program is evolving, so we're able to offer some advice on what we've learned throughout the years," Captain Foss said.