An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

23rd STS takes to the sky and water for RAMB training

  • Published
  • By Capt. Katie Spencer
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

Crawl. Walk. Run.

These words comprise a concept in the military where learning a skill set and putting it to use is a progressive process. This especially holds true for Special Tactics Airmen of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The 23rd STS is tasked with executing global access, personnel recovery, and precision strike missions. The squadron is unique in that its location in Florida lends itself to having water-rescue capabilities for any recovery involving military personnel. Air Force Special Tactics is considered the primary personnel recovery force for all of U.S. Special Operations Command.

“Because we are here in the panhandle of Florida and collocated with Air Force Special Operations Command and the 1st Special Operations Wing, our unit prepares for hurricane response and personnel recovery in the area” said Lt. Col. Jesse Wilson, commander of the 23rd STS. “The 23rd STS is a very capable and well-equipped personnel recovery force. We are fortunate to have a large body of water to practice on, with a lot of great ranges, outstanding air assets and very capable joint partners.”

The ability to recover personnel, especially over water, requires complex training to develop confidence and competence for mission success. The 23rd STS sharpened this necessary skill-set through over-the-water personnel recovery training, conducted here, Aug. 20-21.

The Crawl. 

Before the ST Airmen can even step foot on an aircraft, the training process starts on the ground.

They learn the different components of a Rigged Alternate Method Boat, or RAMB, an inflatable, motorized boat that gets pushed out of an aircraft and later assembled by the Airmen in the water. The operators are taught how to cut the boat apart from the parachute, unfold, inflate and operate the RAMB on the ground before they do it live.

“Starting with slow and deliberate training repetitions, helps us build competence and confidence for the live, full mission profile training,” said Wilson.

Next comes rehearsing the airborne portion where everyone lines up with their parachutes,  hooks up to a static line trainer, rehearses the jump procedures, then visualize being under the canopy, and rehearse the scenario from after they land safely in the water. After this ground training, the jumpers will transition to actual over-land jumps from an MC-130J in preparation for the over-water mission.

Since the teams will be parachuting into a body of water, they conduct wet silk training beforehand, which prepares them for a deliberate and safe water landing as well as other methods to navigate water safety issues should the canopy fall on top of them.

“You never know what can happen in the water,” said a Special Tactics pararescueman from the 23rd STS. “If the chute falls on your head and you get wrapped up, you don’t want the first time that happens to be real world. You need to experience it in training so you don’t freak out if that moment happens on a mission.”

The concept is to create air pockets and follow the seam of the parachute to the center where there is a hole. From there, the operator can orient themselves, follow the seams and swim out from under the canopy.

“You’ve just got to stay calm and remember what the next steps are,” said the PJ.

Other ground-training requirements include medical proficiency, basic jump training, and special rescue skills.

Once the crawl inches forward, it’s time to walk.

The Walk.

RAMB loaded. Parachutes on. Jumpers loaded into the back of a MC-130J. Wheels up.

“From take-off to ramp down, I’m running through the whole op in my head,” said the PJ. “I know what perfect looks like because of our training and constant repetitive rehearsals, so if something deviates from that, I can course correct. It helps me stay calm to focus on the five-meter target; the thing that comes next.”

Special Tactics Teams are comprised of specialties such as pararescuemen, combat controllers, special reconnaissance and tactical air control party Airmen. Each one has a role once they hit the water and execute the personnel recovery objective. While each specialty has its own unique training, ST Airmen are well versed and equipped in the basic understanding of all of each other’s skill sets.

“There’s redundancy because you don’t know what could happen,” said a Combat Rescue Officer from the 23rd STS. “On jumps, the elements can sometimes be unpredictable and change at the last minute, or you have pull the reserve chute and the winds can you take you off target. So someone needs to be able to step in until the expert gets back. It’s more efficient and effective this way.”

Once the teams hit the water and assume their designated roles, it’s time to get to work.

“That’s when the work starts,” said the PJ. “We can get the patient into the boat and give more advanced medical attention while air support is being called in and the RAMB is navigating to exfil the patient. Everyone is doing their part to ensure the patient is quickly and safely recovered.”

This training is conducted to prepare the operators for real-world missions at home or in combat.

“We have aircraft here flying 24/7 over the water and over the land, so we need to be ready should anything happen,” said Wilson. “We’re also tasked to provide personnel and equipment recovery for special operations forces down range. Our special operations air assets are flying constantly, so we’ve got to be ready for the mission if it happens.”

The Run.

This particular over-the-water personnel recovery training was formulated as a “crawl-walk” event to prepare the team for any “run” they may endure.

Whether it be contingency operations overseas, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, joint exercises, or home-station support, the ST Airmen are trained, equipped and prepared to respond at a moment’s notice.

“I feel a sense of pride because our entire unit is always ready and eager for the chance to go out and save people’s lives,” Wilson said. “It really is a whole team effort with all of our AFSOC brothers and sisters, and we are proud to be a part of that team.”