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News/Video Story: Kadena, Japanese responders team up for rescue exercise

  • Published
  • By Maj. John Hutcheson
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
The 18th Wing and a host of Japanese agencies joined forces Oct. 8 to practice emergency response procedures during an annual field exercise. 

The video for this story can be viewed here.

The exercise tested the ability of the base, the Japan Coast Guard and other off-base agencies to respond to a simulated F-15E crash in the waters off the east coast of Okinawa. In the scenario, the two pilots ejected from the aircraft and parachuted into the water. Members of the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons picked up the first pilot from the water, while a Japanese Coast Guard helicopter rescued the second.

As part of the exercise, a Japanese Coast Guard vessel also rescued a fisherman who was injured by debris from the aircraft.

According to the lead planner for the 18th Wing, the objectives of the exercise were to improve interoperability between U.S. and Japanese agencies, to better establish command and control responsibilities in the event of an off-base accident and to practice managing Japanese and U.S. air and maritime traffic around a potential accident site.

"From an operational perspective it went extremely well," said Maj. J.J. Fenceroy, chief of Exercises and Inspections for the 18th Wing Plans and Programs office. "[The exercise] demonstrated proof of concept that we can effectively and safely respond to effect a joint rescue during an emergency situation."

The exercise was not without its hurdles however. Different languages, different perceptions of roles and responsibilities and even different radio frequencies meant a lengthy planning process where these issues were eventually hammered out.

"The biggest challenge for planning was the initial limited understanding of the standard operating procedures for how each of the various agencies involved would normally respond to an off-base emergency such as this," said Maj. Fenceroy. "This became much clearer as the planning process went on."

Capt. Chad Thomas of the 33rd Rescue Squadron piloted the HH-60 that picked up one of the downed Airmen. He said the exercise was valuable because it gave the Air Force a chance to execute a mission side-by-side with host nation rescue forces.

"It was a great chance for both nations to come together and show that we can perform together in the event of an emergency," said Capt. Thomas.

The Japanese Director of Crisis Management for Okinawa was pleased with the planning and execution of the event and encouraged by the results.

"We learned through an exercise today that we are fully capable of responding quickly should an accident happen," said Yuji Sakoda. "I feel that we are a step ahead."

Maj. Fenceroy agreed, stressing that the exercise boosted the level of trust and confidence among all the agencies involved.

"Ultimately the importance of exercises like this is to enhance mutual understanding of our emergency response procedures and determine how best to use the skills and resources from both sides to effectively respond to crisis situations, said the major.