Rodeo tests skills of Air Force, Canadian special tacticians
By Capt. John Stamm, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 01, 2008
FORT KNOX, Ky. --
The shouts rang out: "Go, Go, Go!" as ropes were lowered, "bullets" flew and boots hit the ground.
Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron were launching a simulated rescue operation into "hostile" territory here as part of a competition between teams of elite Air Force Pararescue Jumpers.
The competition, known as a rodeo and sponsored this year by the Louisville-based 123rd, was held primarily at Fort Knox, Ky., from Sept. 2 through Sept. 4 and drew more than 100 participants from across the United States and Canada.
Known as "the quiet professionals," pararescue units are among the best the world has to offer when it comes to conducting rescue and recovery missions in hostile environments.
The annual rodeo simulates real-world scenarios, offering PJ teams a chance to test and hone their skills, learn new ones or adapt and utilize current abilities to a different situation, said Senior Master Sgt. Karl Grugel, superintendent of the 123rd STS.
"Every time we can get together in mass formation like this, the cross-tell is phenomenal," he said. "Teams have different experiences, and they use those experiences to tweak their tactics."
Represented were teams from the 123rd, the 58th at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the 38th at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., the 23rd at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the 212th from the Alaska Air National Guard, the 103rd from the New York Air National Guard and a team from the Canadian Air Force.
Teams demonstrated fast-roping techniques, performed static-line parachuting, practiced mass-casualty aid, engaged in combat, extracted prisoners and downed pilots, and conducted confined-space operations.
MOUT training -- short for Military Operations Urban Terrain -- was conducted at Zussman Village, an urban combat training facility at Fort Knox.
Teams were air-lifted in via Blackhawk helicopter, courtesy of the U.S. Army Reserve, and either exited the aircraft upon landing or had to use their repelling skills while still airborne.
Under simulated enemy fire provided by volunteers in the form of paintballs and professionally detonated explosives, teams had to locate and rescue personnel amidst smoke and fire before proceeding to a rally point to be extracted.
A confined-space/structural collapse exercise was held at Marble Hill, Ind., on the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant currently being demolished.
The remote location provided the perfect simulation of a "bombed out" facility, Sergeant Grugel said.
Teams had to enter and locate precious cargo weighing hundreds of pounds in the midst of rubble.
Once located, the teams had to monitor the area for hazardous gasses and possible explosives, and extract the cargo from several feet below through an opening in the floor just barely large enough for it to fit.
They then were required to move into a position where the cargo could be loaded onto a transport vehicle and delivered to safety.
According to Master Sgt. Ishmael Antonio (retired), a former PJ and one of the facilitators of the competition, the rodeo was all about demonstrating abilities, use of tactical tools and teamwork.
"They really have to fine-tune their skills in this environment," Sergeant Antonio said.
"Sometimes these guys work in a small area, sometimes with no lights and often with only what they can carry.
"They have to be aware of atmospheric monitoring, enemy position and capabilities and weapons control. But they make it work because they have no other choice."
The overall winner of the competition was the team from New York, followed by the Alaskan team in second and the Hurlburt Field crew rounding out the top three.