PORTLAND, Ore. --
Non-salvageable vehicles usually end up sitting in a scrap yard or are crushed and recycled. But one squadron here routinely uses junked cars as a training tool in order to potentially save lives.
Oregon Air National Guardsmen from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron participated in extrication training at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oct. 8, 2020, to simulate removing entrapped or injured personnel from a vehicle or aircraft. This training is part of Special Tactics units’ personnel recovery mission priority.
“By using non-salvageable vehicles, we are able to develop a scenario in which all procedures and tools are utilized, enhancing proficiency in this specific Tactic, Technique, and Procedure,” said the 125th STS flight commander. “The non-salvageable vehicles provide the most realistic training possible.”
Training instructors from an outside agency showed the 125th STS operators how to use tools such as the “jaws of life,” lift bags, saws, and specialty tools to cut open the cars and remove simulated trapped personnel.
One instructor said he is a prior special tactics member. The division of the company he works for is staffed and managed by an all-veteran team.
Firefighters typically conduct extrication training, however Special Tactics Airmen use different tools.
“Special Tactics uses similar procedures, however, our equipment is much lighter and man-portable as a single person or multiple persons in a small team have to be able to carry and utilize this equipment in a tactical environment,” the flight commander said.
In a combat environment, Special Tactics Airmen may encounter an armored vehicle that was destroyed by an improvised explosive device or a crashed helicopter with people inside. But the members may also use their training during other missions.
“We also use this equipment during state emergency response operations or humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations to establish landing zones,” he said. “Or in the case of hurricanes, we’d possibly cut holes in the tops of houses to evacuate personnel by helicopter. These procedures were also utilized by Special Tactics pararescuemen during the earthquake response in Haiti in 2010.”
Extrication is one of the ST pararescuemens’ primary skillsets, so they train regularly. But the demanding skill comes with physical and mental challenges.
“There is obviously the physical portion as these situations can be very challenging based on the damage to the vehicle or aircraft,” he said. “It can also be mentally taxing as not all problem sets are the same. Lastly, the emotional aspect is extremely heavy because time is of the essence. Personnel entrapped are not receiving medical treatment and are exposed to significant hazards.”
Despite the challenges, extrication training allows Special Tactics Airmen to perform life-saving rescue missions in the world’s most remote areas.