Aircrews test combat, water survival skills

SACANDAGA LAKE, N.Y. – Treading water under a parachute is the last thing you would expect to do at an Adirondack vacation spot, but that’s precisely what Maj. Kimberly Terpening confronted over her drill weekend.

“I was a little nervous beforehand, but it wasn’t bad once I swam underneath and saw a way through,” said Terpening, 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

The parachute disentanglement lab was part of her water survival training held on Sacandaga Lake during her August unit training assembly. In the lab, airmen had to swim underneath a parachute from one side to another, navigating their way through the chute’s water-soaked nylon fabric while pushing above the waterline for air.

“Being trapped underneath a parachute is a life or death situation,” said Senior Master Sgt. Denny Richardson, 109th Airlift Wing life support superintendent. “Airmen must react quickly to survive,” he said. He explained that parachute canopies fall directly over aircrew members, thus the importance of knowing how to get clear of them while in the water.

Over 80 aircrew members and aeromedical technicians from the 109th Airlift Wing spent their drill weekend in the fields and cold waters of Northville, NY to refresh their combat survival and water survival skills.

The Air National Guard requires all aircrew members and aeromeds to refresh these skills triennially to ensure they remain ready, reliable and relevant.

Airman spent their morning at the Plateau airport where the Wing’s life support personnel stationed makeshift training labs under blue-tarp shelters. “Each lab provides approximately thirty minutes of hands-on combat survival instruction,” said Tech. Sgt. Shaun Graham, course instructor and noncommissioned officer in charge. He pointed out six stations within the knee-high grass of the combat survival training area; signaling and recovery, map and compass, camouflage and concealment, fire craft, flare training and survival medicine.


The airmen faced a unique challenge at each lab. At the map and compass station, airmen used triangulation, pace counting and the shadow-stick methods to find their position. “You can’t always count on using a GPS (global positioning system) alone,” said Tech. Sgt. Frank Bryant, instructor. “You have to know how to use a compass and other ways to figure out position,” he said. Bryant explained that electronic gadgets like the GPS are very accurate but not always available in an emergency situation.

After a quick lunch, the group moved the training to a narrow section of Sacandaga Lake called Smith’s Beach. There, they put on swim gear and spent the afternoon immersed in water survival skills, which included parachute disentanglement and one-man and twenty-man life raft procedures. Five scuba divers monitored the training for safety.

Boarding the twenty-man life rafts required airmen to pull each other out of the water, and many airmen struggled to find anchor points on the slippery, orange rubber decks of the rafts. Teamwork proved the best approach to the problem.

“It was great to come out here and work as a team because you learn so much more about each other, and it’s just nice to get outside the workshops and learn,” said Terpening. The major went on to say that, despite the challenges of holding such field training, instructors and students were well prepared and professional throughout. “The instructors did a lot of work to be ready for us,” she said.

The 109AW’s CST/WST training pamphlet prepares students for the most realistic training possible; therefore, giving aircrews an opportunity to train in a real survival situation.

“We refine each class from the previous one,” said Graham.

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