Undulating waves pitched the 2,000-ton U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Cypress like a bath toy, which was nothing unusual for the vessel while operating in Pacific waters off Alaska.
What was out of place was the 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter hovering overhead. Fast ropes dropped from the Pave Hawk’s open doors, and U.S. Coast Guardsmen of Maritime Security Response Team West rapidly streamed down to the deck like firefighters descending a fire pole.
Keeping watch over the ballet of tactical infiltration was Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Richard Stout, 210th RQS HH-60 special missions aviator. He had to keep an eye on the helicopter’s relative position to the cutter, assist the MSRT operators to safely exit and ensure the ship’s movements were within safety limits.
All in a day’s work for 210th RQS and the elite MSRT members who teamed up for the recent training.
The 210th RQS flies the Pave Hawk, the only rotary wing platform in the Department of Defense solely dedicated to combat search and rescue of downed pilots and other isolated U.S. and allied personnel.
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Tyler Seibold, 210th RQS Pave Hawk pilot, said the HH-60 is well-suited to supporting fast rope operations, a core task for 212th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen and combat rescue officers.
Seibold said the Pave Hawk has wide doors on both sides of the aircraft, whereas the Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk only has one door on the starboard side due to large port fuel tanks that give the Jayhawk superior unrefueled range. The Pave Hawk’s Fast-Rope Insertion Extraction System is a heavy-duty, machined bar bolted into the helicopter’s roof that extends from the doors as an anchor for the ropes.
The Pave Hawk and Jayhawk employ rescue hoists suited for the deliberate insertion of rescue personnel and the safe extraction of those rescued. The fast rope allows pararescue to rapidly infiltrate a contested area and quickly carry out a rescue while the helicopter provides overwatch and support with its GAU-18 .50-caliber machine gun or the 4,000 rounds-per-minute GAU-2 7.62 mm minigun.
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Paul Rauenhorst, HH-60 pilot and 176th Operations Group chief of standards and evaluations, said a tumultuous sea state throughout the week made for especially difficult training.
“The rolling seas definitely made it challenging to get the operators off and on the ship in such a confined space,” he said.
Flying with the pilots were 210th RQS special missions aviators responsible for working closely with the operators to ensure a safe fast rope while providing a critical extra set of eyes.
“I’m new to the job, so this is my first time working with moving vessels,” Stout said. “It’s very challenging because everything is moving, and the situation is very dynamic. Normally, we’re in a stationary hover, but we’re flying at the same speed and heading as the boat, holding position and delivering the operators safely.”
Rauenhorst underscored the value of working with mission partners Airmen may see again during domestic operations and overseas contingencies.
“These are some of the operators we might meet downrange, so it’s good to work with them in case we see them on future deployments,” Rauenhorst said. “It’s also good, flying-wise, to experience different mission sets that are outside of search and rescue. It’s a different but challenging aspect working with the ships down here at Kodiak.”