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Day in the Life: HOST instructors teach lifelong skills

HOST instructors prepare a group of students from Class 14-022 to undergo METS training March 14. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

HOST instructors prepare a group of students from Class 14-022 to undergo METS training March 14. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: March 21, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 21, 2014) -- Many people are familiar with aircraft-crash-water training from movies such as “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and although the training has changed drastically over the last 30 years, instructors are still teaching potential Aviators skills they can take with them in their daily lives.

“This course is a confidence builder to give them a water-based scenario that is necessary for Army helicopter pilots. It teaches them good eye and hand coordination, control and confidence that they can use any time,” said Capt. John Kraft, Helicopter Overwater Survival Training officer in charge.

Students begin HOST training immediately after Basic Officer Leadership Course in the classroom for 4 ½ hours of academics and written tests.

Students must then complete a 25-meter swim test in full flight gear, tread water in full gear and complete a dead man’s float for two minutes.

“We give them the time and skills to complete the course, and if they can’t do this, then they don’t have the necessary skills to fly and manage a helicopter,” said the OIC. “So, by having this training first, we can save the government a lot of money.”

Students are only taken out of the program if they quit. They can retake the course until they pass. If students don’t initially pass, they go into a remedial swim class where they get one-on-one tips with instructors teaching them swimming techniques, which usually gives students the needed confidence to complete the course, Kraft said.

Instructors said it is extremely rewarding when they see a student complete the course when they have had a traumatic incident as a child and have a fear of water.

“It is so rewarding seeing a student that struggled not quit and successfully complete the course. Everyone gets excited because we know we have made a difference in that student’s life,” said Kraft.

When students overcome their fears of the water, instructors added that many feel that nothing can hold them back, that they are appreciative that instructors gave them the confidence and skills to not only swim and escape a craft, but the confidence as a human being to face their fears. 

“Students can take this training and use it in their daily life in case they ever crash their car into a lake or river, or even into another car. Because if the car is on fire you still cannot see or breathe, so this training is useful,” Kraft said.

“There is always a procedure of when to unhook your seatbelt, when to open the door handle, where to look for the door handle,” continued Kraft. “They can save their life or their Family’s lives. This is not training that you can produce in a moment’s notice and instill it into an Aviator, it has to be preplanned.”

The instructors train Aviators and aircrew members on aircraft ditching, emergency breathing systems, extended surface survival and recovery. HOST consists of two courses: the initial certification and recertification.

During initial certification, students undergo the Shallow Water Egress Trainer, where they are strapped to a flight chair and instructors flip the chair upside down and the student must egress. Kraft said it teaches procedural underwater problem-solving techniques, operating in blackout conditions, assuming the proper brace position, locating exit jettison mechanisms, holding their breath, and operating exit procedures, all while inducing disorientation.

The instructors also use the Modular Egress Training Simulator Survival System Model 40, which replicates the CH-47, UH-60 and OH-58D, and the separate AH-64 tandem seat cockpit, to mimic full aircraft flip and submersion. This training advances what they learned in SWET while replicating exit doors and windows, and familiarizes students with post-impact ditching environment in varying conditions.

The students spend five to six hours in the water, which is set at 86 degrees. The instructors spend around 30 hours a week in the water, but said they take steps to ensure they stay healthy to come back every day.

The instructors feel at home in the water, with many being former Navy SEALs and prior military divers, and all are lifeguard-and diver-certified water safety instructors trained in neurological assessment to identify conditions such as the bends. Many are also emergency-medical technicians, paramedics, dive- medical technicians, and all have platform instructional backgrounds along with other internal qualifications.

“This course is about teaching and reaching the individual need of each student, no matter what their problems in the water might be. We are more than willing to take the time to help them,” said Robert Barcelona, HOST alternant contract manager and instructor.

He said all of the instructors want students to understand that Army  overwater flight missions are increasing, so it is important for them to know how to escape the craft, as well as survive in the open water in case they have to wait for rescue. It is also something they may use at home during hurricane and flooding seasons.

The training is applicable in rivers and oceans. Barcelona and Kraft said there are plenty of recent instances where helicopters have crashed in streams and rivers where the crew has drowned.

Both men said the job can be stressful. It is not uncommon for a scared student to grab out and panic while in the water.

“Some begin fighting you in the water. They think they are going to drown and they start drama in the water for other students and the instructors,” said Barcelona. “Which is another reason why following procedures is so important, because students won’t pass unless they follow each step exactly, and be calm and under control the entire time.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/122336/

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