JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.
The 633rd Force Support Squadron conducted search and recovery training with a team of 14 U.S. Air Force Airmen at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, July 23, 2019.
The training is part of a continued readiness effort by FSS conducted every quarter called home station readiness training, which identifies and trains Airmen on subjects to include mortuary affairs, field feeding and search and recovery operations.
“Readiness is paramount in this very dynamic age,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jomia Blas, 633rd FSS commander. “This training is a means for us to keep our skills sharp and relevant to the mission.”
According to Blas, during this training members were able to learn and practice the procedures for search and recovery, giving the team hands-on experience, so they are ready when mission calls.
“We teach them the proper procedures for search and recovery, what to look for and any signs that can lead to a find,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn Stidham, 633rd FSS NCO in charge of mortuary affairs. “We had a classroom session where we went through the how-to procedures, then we went out and had them [Airmen] demonstrate this knowledge.”
According to Stidham, when responding to incidents such as a fatal aircraft mishap or mass casualty, the team’s goal is to recover all remains in a respectful manner, ensuring preservation of any evidence, while continuously making sure every Airman involved is mentally prepared for the task at hand.
“Search and recovery is a challenging task both physically and mentally,” Stidham said. “The work itself can last days, weeks or months depending on the incident. The mental and emotional toll it can take on a member is significant so we train our members not only on what to expect when responding to an incident, but also on how to look out for the well-being of themselves and their team while performing their duties.”
Stidham explained that during the training each member was provided with basic personal protective equipment: gloves, masks and smocks. Depending on the role the member was filling they used flags, plastic bags, tags, etc., while practicing in different environments to better prepare the Airmen.
“Our members can be tasked to perform these duties both stateside, deployed, and in a variety of environments,” Stidham said. “It could be out in the field, desert, marsh or mountains, wherever an incident could happen that’s where they’re going to go.”
Stidham continued, during the training simulation they use props such as cadaver dummies, meat waste to simulate portions of remains, assorted clothing and personal items that members would be recovering in a real life situation.
“This is where our mission meets the warfighting nexus,” Blas said. “We put people out at the front lines and being able to provide that release and bring our warfighters home no matter what is paramount. No matter where we are, we are going to guarantee that we bring everybody home and provide closure to the families and to the mission.”