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California Air Guard both learn and guide at premier CSAR exercise

Pararescuemen from the 48th Rescue Squadron out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., fly aboard an HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing out of Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., during a rescue scenario Dec. 12 at Davis-Monthan AFB. Exercise Angel Thunder is a personnel recovery exercise designed to train a joint, interagency and international audience in effectively executing the personnel recovery mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Greg Morehead)

Pararescuemen from the 48th Rescue Squadron out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., fly aboard an HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing out of Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., during a rescue scenario Dec. 12 at Davis-Monthan AFB. Exercise Angel Thunder is a personnel recovery exercise designed to train a joint, interagency and international audience in effectively executing the personnel recovery mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Greg Morehead)

Two Air Force pararescuemen depart from a HH-60G Pave Hawk to aid casualties during a personnel recovery training exercise Dec. 7 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.. More than 800 ground recovery personnel took part in Angel Thunder 2008, a combat search and rescue exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Noah R. Johnson)

Two Air Force pararescuemen depart from a HH-60G Pave Hawk to aid casualties during a personnel recovery training exercise Dec. 7 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.. More than 800 ground recovery personnel took part in Angel Thunder 2008, a combat search and rescue exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Noah R. Johnson)

Two HH-60G Pave Hawks land during a personnel recovery training exercise Dec. 7 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.. More than 800 ground recovery personnel took part in Angel Thunder 2008, a combat search and rescue exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Noah R. Johnson)

Two HH-60G Pave Hawks land during a personnel recovery training exercise Dec. 7 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.. More than 800 ground recovery personnel took part in Angel Thunder 2008, a combat search and rescue exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Noah R. Johnson)

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- "Angel Thunder," the largest and most complex Department of Defense personnel recovery exercise, featured members of the 129th Rescue Wing for the first time this year, Dec. 1 through 12, said Maj. David R. Bozzo, the 129th Operations Support Flight Intelligence Officer.

"Our involvement in Angel Thunder was driven by finding an exercise that could satisfy AEF spinup for deploying aircrews, Operations and Maintenance support personnel." Major Bozzo said. "It was our "train like you fight" preparation exercise. In the past we attended Red Flag at Nellis AFB but timing this year afforded us an opportunity to participate in Angel Thunder."

"Angel Thunder is a CSAR specific exercise that integrated active duty and Air National Guard rescue forces, along with other government agencies, in dedicated personnel recovery missions," said Col. Mark Sheehy, 129th Operations Group Commander. "The aircrew had the opportunity to perform missions in a desert environment much like our AEF operating locations. The exercise integrated A-10 and AH-64 aircraft to provide rescue escort of our training missions."

While all of the Wing's participants were volunteers, the emphasis was on training the warfighter, Major Bozzo said.

"It was invaluable training that ensures our aircrews are well-prepared for the upcoming AEF rotation this spring," Colonel Sheehy said.

In its third year, the exercise tested not only the pararescue crews, but a new operational architecture. Known as the "Rescue Operations Center," this new approach to communicating is being validated by the exercise. In theory, a Rescue Operations Center (or ROC) integrates all of the various elements of information and provides an accurate, relevant summary for the rescue crews to work from. If information is missing or inaccurate, pilots and PJs have a harder job and tougher decisions to make.

Over the first week, the missions went from a "traditional CSAR recovery mission," of a single individual, to more complex rescues involving two, then ten people and a variety of complications, Major Bozzo said. "The next week, it elevates a bit and becomes a bit more intense," with the goal being to try out the ROC under pressure, to see how it functions when overwhelmed.

But where the California Air National Guard shined was when some of its senior pilots were asked to not only participate in the exercise, but to guide it, as well. In addition to staffing the ROC, Lt. Col. Taft Aujero, the 129th OSF commander, Maj. Jose Agredano, the 129th OSF Chief of Tactics, and Maj. Matt Wenthe, the 129th Rescue Squadron Tactics officer, were all asked to assist in the White Cell, which provided the inputs for the exercise.

"The unit's experience level was evident as three of our seasoned pilots were asked to contribute to the exercise by supporting the White Cell and the Rescue Operations Center in a leadership or advisory role," Major Bozzo said. "Their experience as senior pilots and Weapons Instructor School graduates helped facilitate the execution and smooth flow of Angel Thunder."