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Interagency Exercise Hones Rescue Operations

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2011 – The largest federal interagency exercise for personnel rescue and recovery began at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Oct. 9 with joint, coalition, interagency and international participants all focused on saving lives.

The annual Angel Thunder exercise, sponsored by the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, continues through Oct. 21 and is using an earthquake scenario to prepare participants for rescue and recovery missions, officials said.

Brett Hartnett, a former Air Force combat rescue helicopter pilot who founded and manages the exercise, attributed its continued success to networking, partnerships and the “whole of government” approach to saving lives.

“It is like working in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force,” he said, noting that the exercise covers the gamut of rescue missions. Participants are evaluated on the performance and effectiveness of a personnel recovery force, he added.

This year’s exercise involves 1,400 people from U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Africa Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, officials said. Also taking part are key U.S. agencies such as the State Department, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore and Sweden also are taking part, and Chile, Egypt, El Salvador, Lebanon, Peru, Uruguay and Qatar are observing the exercise this year.

Hartnett noted the value of close, regular exercises with countries such as Colombia, which returned this year for its fourth Angel Thunder.

“We know they’re good, we know who to contact, and we’re used to working with them,” he said.

Local participants in the network also contribute to the exercise’s success, Hartnett said. This year, two hospitals, three sheriff’s offices, a fire department and three universities are participating.

“We’ve quilted together facilities, locations, governments and agencies,” he said. “It’s a very low-cost exercise because it’s based on networking, rather than reinventing the wheel.”

Hartnett called Angel Thunder the “biggest bang for the buck in training dollars.” It is the only personnel rescue exercise that has been nominated for joint certification and accreditation, he added.

Angel Thunder grew quickly in 2005 without a budget, but soon “exploded” in participation, Hartnett said.

“Everyone wants to get in this exercise,” he said. “The Air Force recognized it, and ACC put the official [exercise] stamp on us.”

The goal of Angel Thunder is simple: “The mission comes down to saving lives,” Hartnett said.

 

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