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Surviving on the water

PITTSBURGH -- Training requirements constantly change. Every military member experiences it and aircrew are no exception. The 171st Aircrew Flight Equipment office conducts a water survival refresher course every three years, but this year was the first time parachutes were not included in the course.

Despite any changes they experience, Master Sgt. Wray White II and his staff are flexible and adapt to any new requirements. White, the noncommissioned officer in-charge, explained not only is the training valuable to the aircrew, but also to his staff.

"We have to keep our enlisted members trained to be able to train aircrew members. So with new people coming in, people gaining rank, gaining instructor positions, this allows them to gain that knowledge they need to become master instructors," White said.
The training was conducted at the West Allegheny High School pool during two days. To simulate the rough seas a downed KC-135 may find, the staff creates rain and waves using hoses to keep the aircrew on alert.

All 120 aircrew members who participated were expected to jump in the water simultaneously deploying their flotation device, chain-up as a group and swim to the 20-man raft located at the deep end of the pool. Once the team is in the raft, they must work together to set up a canopy. One side of the canopy is black, to camouflage themselves in a combat zone. The reverse side is pink to alert others for a rescue.

"The hardest part of the training was being in the raft and having to organize people to perform specific jobs and dealing with potential weather while trying to put the canopy on top of the raft," said Maj. Janet Van Dyke. A former navigator and currently a pilot, Van Dyke experienced water survival training here for the first time.

The 171st prides itself on safe flying and 52 years without a mishap, yet in an emergency, the aircrew will be ready and confident.