Interagency Exercise Hones Rescue Operations

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2011 — The largest fed­er­al inter­a­gency exer­cise for per­son­nel res­cue and recov­ery began Davis-Mon­than Air Force Base, Ariz., Oct. 9 with joint, coali­tion, inter­a­gency and inter­na­tion­al par­tic­i­pants all focused on sav­ing lives.

The annu­al Angel Thun­der exer­cise, spon­sored by the Air Force’s Air Com­bat Com­mand, con­tin­ues through Oct. 21 and is using an earth­quake sce­nario to pre­pare par­tic­i­pants for res­cue and recov­ery mis­sions, offi­cials said.

Brett Hart­nett, a for­mer Air Force com­bat res­cue heli­copter pilot who found­ed and man­ages the exer­cise, attrib­uted its con­tin­ued suc­cess to net­work­ing, part­ner­ships and the “whole of gov­ern­ment” approach to sav­ing lives.

“It is like work­ing in Afghanistan with the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force,” he said, not­ing that the exer­cise cov­ers the gamut of res­cue mis­sions. Par­tic­i­pants are eval­u­at­ed on the per­for­mance and effec­tive­ness of a per­son­nel recov­ery force, he added.

This year’s exer­cise involves 1,400 peo­ple from U.S. South­ern Com­mand, U.S. Africa Com­mand and the Joint Per­son­nel Recov­ery Agency, offi­cials said. Also tak­ing part are key U.S. agen­cies such as the State Depart­ment, Coast Guard, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, Drug Enforce­ment Agency, and U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment.

Aus­tralia, Cana­da, Colom­bia, Den­mark, France, the Nether­lands, Pak­istan, Sin­ga­pore and Swe­den also are tak­ing part, and Chile, Egypt, El Sal­vador, Lebanon, Peru, Uruguay and Qatar are observ­ing the exer­cise this year.

Hart­nett not­ed the val­ue of close, reg­u­lar exer­cis­es with coun­tries such as Colom­bia, which returned this year for its fourth Angel Thun­der.

“We know they’re good, we know who to con­tact, and we’re used to work­ing with them,” he said.

Local par­tic­i­pants in the net­work also con­tribute to the exercise’s suc­cess, Hart­nett said. This year, two hos­pi­tals, three sheriff’s offices, a fire depart­ment and three uni­ver­si­ties are par­tic­i­pat­ing.

“We’ve quilt­ed togeth­er facil­i­ties, loca­tions, gov­ern­ments and agen­cies,” he said. “It’s a very low-cost exer­cise because it’s based on net­work­ing, rather than rein­vent­ing the wheel.”

Hart­nett called Angel Thun­der the “biggest bang for the buck in train­ing dol­lars.” It is the only per­son­nel res­cue exer­cise that has been nom­i­nat­ed for joint cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and accred­i­ta­tion, he added.

Angel Thun­der grew quick­ly in 2005 with­out a bud­get, but soon “explod­ed” in par­tic­i­pa­tion, Hart­nett said.

“Every­one wants to get in this exer­cise,” he said. “The Air Force rec­og­nized it, and ACC put the offi­cial [exer­cise] stamp on us.”

The goal of Angel Thun­der is sim­ple: “The mis­sion comes down to sav­ing lives,” Hart­nett said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)