CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Sometimes, the hardest line of work is the one where not doing your job is a good thing.
For the Tactical Recovery Team with the Crash, Fire and Rescue section of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), nothing could be closer to the truth.
These Marines are trained as first-responders to countless urgent scenarios involving disabled aircraft or vehicles. Whether it is the result of an improvised explosive device, mechanical failure or any one of the countless mishaps, which are possible across the battlespace, these Marines have what it takes to rescue coalition personnel in distress.
Thankfully, these Marines have not engaged in the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel; however they are hard at work training and developing standard operating procedures for TRAP missions – where nothing is standard.
“We have not been on any TRAP missions as of today,” said Staff Sgt. Uriah Gruber, the training chief for the CFR Marines. “Without a doubt, if they called us today, these Marines would be ready to go. The training and tempo are up there, we are just waiting for the word.”
Being in a deployed environment has given the CFR Marines, also known as Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Marines in some locations, rare and vital training resources. A small number of tactical vehicles, which have been damaged or disabled beyond a state of repair, are taken to a lot behind the fire station, where the Marines can practice and demonstrate rescue procedures in preparation for real-life application.
“We’ve cut open seven vehicles since October, and from day one, we found numerous different challenges to overcome,” said Gruber. “Basically, we are finding the safest and fastest techniques to open these vehicles in order to rescue a victim.”
Whether the vehicle is on its side or on fire, been blasted or submerged, CFR Marines are trained to improvise and do whatever it takes to save the lives of their brothers in arms. Upon the safe recovery of personnel, the focus is then shifted to the recovery and damage mitigation of the disabled vehicle, if the situation permits.
“For me, hands-on training is the money maker,” said Sgt. Robert A. Dallas, the section leader for CFR section three. “To be able to get in there and use the tool, rather than just hear it and take classes – I think my Marines feel the same way. This way each Marine can weigh the pros and cons, and find out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.”
The Marines have a variety of tools at their disposal. The six-in-one tool is a multi-purpose tool used for hammering, prying, twisting, torqueing and much more. This steel hammer-shaped object is fitted with multiple uses and is perfect for getting a lot done with little time. The Marines also utilize the “Jaws of Life,” a gas-powered saw and an exothermic torch. All of these tools come with a man-portable fuel source, which a Marine may carry on his back. This provides the TRT with an expeditionary capability, able to make a huge difference with a small footprint.
Aside from TRT, the CFR Marines with MWSS-373 also assist in the transport of casualties arriving at Camp Bastion – ensuring their safe and timely arrival to emergency medical care. They are also on-call around the clock as first-responders in case distressed aircraft are forced to make an emergency landing aboard the flightline.
Though the Marines have not been called upon for many of their duties, they may sleep easy knowing they possess the ability, and training, to do so on a moment’s notice. The hands-on drills and practical application they have applied during their tour in Afghanistan has given the Marines an irreplaceable wisdom, which they will carry for the duration of their careers. Furthermore, in the event of a future mishap, when seconds save lives, hesitation is one thing you won’t find in their toolset.