JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Matt Steible, a 212th Rescue Squadron pararescueman (PJ), knew that in order to get to the victim of a roadside bomb trapped under a subcompact sedan, he would have to lift the stricken vehicle.
Steible grasped the underside chassis rail and, with superhuman strength, lifted the vehicle and flipped it over like a CrossFit tire.
The superhuman powers necessary to lift the 2,500-pound vehicle didn’t come from a radioactive spider bite or exposure to gamma radiation. They were granted to Steible through teamwork and the combined strength of three of his fellow PJs.
The effort was part of an Oct. 13, 2021, mass casualty exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Bryant Army Airfield.
Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Hamilton, a 212th RQS senior PJ, said the exercise was designed to validate new team leaders and to further sharpen skills taught during the rigorous two-year training pipeline that every PJ passes through.
Hamilton said the field near Bryant Army Airfield was the perfect training venue because it offered rapid access to the PJs following their infiltration on a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II.
Once the HC-130 landed, the aircraft disgorged two Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicles allowing the team to tactically maneuver to the site of the notional attack where two wrecked, donated vehicles were waiting with simulated casualties complete with “moulage” makeup wounds.
The two SRTVs set up a blocking position at the perimeter of the site, and the PJs secured the area before going to work providing first aid to the simulated victims.
A few of the victims were “trapped” in a large, overturned, two-ton SUV. Before the exercise, the role players had crawled in the good side’s functioning doors, which the grading cadre members placed off limits to the responding PJs forcing them to figure out how to breach the mess of twisted metal.
The technical rescue required the use of extrication heavy artillery: electric saws and the aptly named Jaws of Life in an effort to crack open the vehicle like a can of spaghetti.
“The plan of attack is to get at the hinges and keep on breaking it, but because the SUV was crumpled to a certain degree, it really necessitated removing every piece of metal to get the leverage to work the door free,” Steible said.
Pretty soon, a trying operation assessing, treating and evacuating victims with shrapnel wounds turned into a dicey bid for survival owing to the arrival of role-playing insurgents firing automatic weapons joined in their chorus of destruction by simulated mortar fire.
The PJs sprang into action, diving into the wood line to maneuver to the flank of the enemy position before closing in and finishing them.
“Security is the No. 1 priority,” Steible said. “We dropped the extrication duties, suppressed the threat, and then it’s a matter of getting accountability of troops in contact, reassess security, and then you can go back to extrication.”
Trapped under the subcompact sedan was a dummy simulating another victim. Devising the brute, but elegant, solution of flipping over the vehicle was obvious, Steible said.
“The simplest system is usually the best system,” he said. “It just takes a little bit of manpower to make it happen. It wasn’t hard at all once we got momentum.”
Once the PJs had loaded the victims on the SRTVs, they maneuvered to Brant Army Airfield where a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter, and an 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment Alaska Army National Guard UH-60M Black Hawk medevac helicopter were waiting to evacuate them.
Steible likened the tactical exercise to physical exercise. As opposed to deadlift reps firming muscles leg and shoulder muscles, the simulated operation reinforced fundamentals and further built the team.
“A repetition is a repetition,” he said. “It’s always good to refresh those skills you have practiced before and get another look at things. Perhaps the most important thing is to decide upon what kind of ground you’re going to fight on to defend or attack. Terrain is key, and after that is communication and teamwork, which win the day.”