HONG KONG (NNS) -- Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) 2008 - an international humanitarian exercise involving forces from the U.S., Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China - began Oct. 27.
Search and rescue (SAR) units from U.S. Coast Guard District 14 in Honolulu and the Alaska Air National Guard (ANG) 210th and 212th Rescue Squadrons in Anchorage will work with SAR teams from Hong Kong's Government Flying Service (GFS) as part of the exercise.
As a work-up to the scheduled humanitarian Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) 2008 the Coast Guard and Air National Guard teams spent a week prior to the exercise getting to know their hosts.
"These guys have invited us out on everything that they do," said Lt. Col. Tim O'Brien, commander of the 210th Rescue Squadron. "They've taken us out on familiarization flights on their helicopters. We've landed on islands here in Hong Kong. Today our (rescue swimmers) got a chance to go down the hoist and into the water, and a couple of our guys have even had the chance to go on actual rescue missions. So they've just been fabulous hosts."
The mission of the Hong Kong GFS is comparable to the SAR mission practiced by the U.S. Coast Guard and, to some degree, the Air National Guard, according to ANG 2nd Lt. John Romspert, combat rescue officer.
"The GFS is really similar to the Coast Guard," Romspert said. "The rescue swimmer and helicopter operations that the Coast Guard does, they're very similar in all the roles and missions. We're similar in that we do work out of helicopters, but we also have a lot of different mission sets that they don't do."
The chance to work with other organizations that perform the same mission makes everyone better, according to ANG Master Sgt. Peter Alexakis, aircraft maintenance supervisor.
"We have a specific mission that we do for the Air Force and for the state of Alaska," said Alexakis. "In doing that, in sharing our mission with others, if we can learn how to make a better mousetrap, we will."
"Sitting here with these guys has been fabulous," said O'Brien. "Sitting here and trading pilot talk, if you will. How do they do water operations? How do they land on ships? How do we land on ships? What do they do for operational risk management? How is ours different?
"How do they talk a helicopter onto a survivor on a boat? They call it patter. We call it cockpit communications or crew coordination," O'Brien added. "It's tiny little terminology differences, but it's amazing how similar our operations are."
While the U.S. has participated in the Hong Kong SAREX in previous years, this is the first time a week-long work-up has been built into the program, according to O'Brien.
"Really where the learning takes place is here, it's in the classroom," O'Brien said. "If we were to just come in, get a briefing, and then go out and execute, none of this interoperability piece, none of the trading of stories, none of that would have happened. So I think this extra week was well worth it."
The SAR personnel at GFS also recognize the tremendous value in working with other units.
"We don't want to be the frog at the bottom of the well, looking up at our small piece of sky and thinking all is well," said Bowie Fung, acting senior pilot for the Helicopter Search and Rescue at GFS. "We want to look outside to other operators, see how they do it. That's the main reason we want to operate with you guys. We want to learn, we always want to improve."
"Everybody gets high value out of working like this because there's not a patent on good ideas," said Romspert. "They do some things different than we do, and it's almost like taking a look at your organization from the outside and seeing how you can improve and what you can do better."
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