This week’s Guardian of the Week post takes on a slightly different tone as we recognize five members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew in Astoria, Oregon. However, it’s not in recognition of a heroic search and rescue case or a gallant maritime medical evacuation but rather it’s because they won the rodeo. Yes, a rodeo. It wasn’t your average, everyday rodeo though.
Lieutenant David Bartram, Lieutenant Adam Davenport, Aviation Maintenance Technician Second Class (AMT2) Donald Berry, Aviation Electrical Technician Third Class (AET3) Michael Vanberkom and Aviation Survival Technician Third Class (AST3) Byron Cross recently won the 2009 H-60 Rodeo held annually at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Oregon. It’s not the kind of rodeo with bulls, cowboys, and clowns, but rather a helicopter rodeo where flight crews test their skills and agility through a series of tests and tasks performed from an airborne MH-60 “Jayhawk” helicopter. Nearly every crewman in flight status took part in the day’s activities, a total of about 35 people.
The rodeo events were based on real life missions of helicopter crews. The pilots and flight crew members have to work together to maneuver the helicopter over all sorts of people, places, and things while conducting hoists, search and rescue, medevacs, aids to navigation maintenance, and even when placing communication towers on footings.
The day began with a trivia challenge where each team earned points for answering questions right. In the afternoon, the teams headed up in a helicopter to perform three different flight events. All three events were timed and geared at testing the synchronization and communication between the flight crew and the pilots. To make the tasks even more challenging, team members swap jobs to further test their cross-training and flight mechanic skills. According to Petty Officer Berry, “it is challenging… there is a lot of coordination between pilot and crew. They move the aircraft where we tell them to, which makes [the challenges] difficult.”
The first task was to maneuver a sling load using an 800-pound steel ball from one concrete box made of jersey barriers to another. If the ball or sling touched the ground or one of the boxes, the team lost points. As a pilot, this was Lieutenant Davenport’s favorite challenge. “It’s a full crew coordinated effort, this is the best part for me about flying. Using everybody’s skills toward a common goal,” he said.
The second task was to deliver the helicopter’s trawl line into a bucket from about 60-feet in the air. Each team was given three attempts. Petty Officer Cross got two out of three in the bucket, which is a difficult feat considering he is a rescue swimmer and does not normally have this responsibility during flight. “It was a good experience,” said Petty Officer Cross, “but something I have not done in a long time. It had been at least three years. From my end [as a rescue swimmer], I’m normally sitting in the water waiting for things to come to me. I forget that it takes time. It all depends on on-scene conditions.” According to Lieutenant Davenport, having crewman perform jobs they don’t normally do helps them to “truly gain an appreciation for what others on the team do.”
The final test was to drop an egg from about 100-feet in the air into a bucket. Each team had six attempts. “This tasked proved to be impossible from that high of an altitude and from rotor wash,” said Petty Officer Berry. “Nobody was able to get an egg in.” Lieutenant Davenport agreed when he said, “the egg drop was frustrating. The rotor wash was too much. I think we got the closest [to the bucket] but that was still two to three feet away.”
The whole day, and each individual event, was not only about team building and training, but it was also a big morale booster for the crews. As Lieutenant Davenport attested, “it’s a fun way to train and it’s a competition. We all want to win. It breeds a lot of fun banter but at the same time honing skills and learning.”
When asked what he felt was the day’s biggest success, Petty Officer Berry said, “it’s a nice break from the day to day activity. It’s fun to watch the other teams perform.” Petty Officer Cross felt the best part of the day for him was, “working on a crew that performed as well as we did.”
Safety also played a big role throughout the day’s activities. The flight crewmen onboard who were not participating in the event were standing guard, watching for hazards, maintaining situational awareness and monitoring equipment.
Congratulations to the winning team and earning the right to boast for the entire next year! Keep up the outstanding work.