Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough, 8th Coast Guard District Public Affairs.
A group of Coast Guardsmen recently had the opportunity to train with the A-Team. That’s right, the A-Team. No television show or video game here. Just the real deal in action – elite, joint U.S. Armed Forces training operations.
The A-Team, or Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, trained alongside Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Ala., and the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group for a series of high altitude-low opening and high altitude-high opening joint training operations aboard an HC-144A Ocean Sentry airplane.
In fact, the Coast Guard regularly conducts defense readiness training operations alongside Department of Defense counterparts. The joint relationships evolved further with an agreement signed between the secretaries of defense and homeland security in 2008. For the military free fall exercise, ATC Mobile requested a waiver from Coast Guard Headquarters to allow parachute jumps from the Ocean Sentry aircraft.
Objective: Preparation for the 7th Group’s Unconventional Warfare exercise.
For the daytime validation jump, Cmdr. David Saunders and his crew arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and took up two teams of six Green Berets and delivered them to a drop zone near Meridian, Miss.
At 10,000 feet, the Coast Guard loadmaster, in close coordination with two Army jumpmasters, lowered the ramp. The paratroopers, each with altimeter gauges the size of night-stand alarm clocks on their wrists, approached the edge of the airplane. Just a few feet from the edge and abreast with the clouds, the wind-tunnel’s gusts mustered the hairs on the back of the neck into formation high atop taut goose bumps.
When the jumpmaster spotted the drop zone at an Eglin test site, they gave the thumbs up. Each of the six jumped one after another.
When each paratrooper reached the optimal height of 6,000 feet, they pulled their chute and descended to the drop zone.
Later that week, the Coast Guard aircrew staged at an airfield in Alexandria, La., and conducted aircraft familiarization and load training with the special forces jumpers.
“The training helped refine our procedures and terminology prior to conducting two planned night events in support of the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group exercise,” said Saunders, pilot for the first parachute operations aboard an HC-144 aircraft.
For the military free fall infiltrations later in the training, the special forces jumped at night, while carrying about 150 pounds of gear and weapons.
On both nights, the aircrew picked up 12-man teams from Alexandria, La., and transported them to drop zones in the vicinity of Foley, Ala. As they landed, the aircrew tracked the location of the “operators,” as the Green Berets landed on a blacked-out drop zone.
The Ocean Sentry airplane was an ideal platform for the operation. As a medium surveillance aircraft, it features a mission system pallet that controls communication and sensor systems such as forward-looking infrared radar, or FLIR. The FLIR enabled the aircrew to monitor the movements of the “insurgents” and transmit real-time imagery to operational commanders.
“The versatility and use of the HC-144 as a multi-mission platform is one our greatest strengths,” Saunders said. “This joint training exercise helped maintain proficiency and expanded our crew’s skill sets to prepare them to adapt to a variety of missions on short notice.”
The infiltration of the two A-Teams set the stage for the unconventional warfare exercise that will take place until Nov. 12. Throughout the training, the Coast Guard garnered the close cooperation and interagency operability with another branch of the Department of Defense. A rarer sense of honor, perhaps, is vigilant sentinels aided the defense of the nation under the cloak of night.
This story originally appeared on Coast Guard Heartland.