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U.S. Coast Guardsmen with Coast Guard Sector San Diego, District 11, participate in a search and rescue exercise with U.S. Marines with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing near the coast of San Diego, California, Sept. 29, 2023. Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen executed a joint search and rescue drill to improve interservice coordination and validate procedures for real world search and rescue operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez

Marines, Coast Guardsmen conduct search and rescue exercise off San Diego coast

13 Oct 2023 | 1stLt Andrew Baez 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

U.S. Marines and Coast Guardsmen joined forces for a search and rescue exercise off the coast, Sept. 29, 2023. Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, teamed up with Coast Guardsmen with Sector San Diego Coast Guard District 11, to improve interservice coordination and validate their search and rescue procedures.

The exercise simulated the joint search and rescue response required if a pilot were to eject from their aircraft at sea. Two aviators with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 502 entered the water from a Coast Guard vessel with full survival equipment. The ensuing response simulated what would take place once the pilots’ ejection seat beacons activated – indicating a mishap and immediately pulling MAG-11 and Sector San Diego into action.

In the water, the pilots began post-ejection survival procedures, activating radio equipment, inflating a life raft, and using sea dye marker to help aviation assets spot them from a distance. From Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marines of VMFAT-502 and MAG-11 executed an internal mishap drill in response to the simulated downed aircraft.

After receiving the notification from District 11, Air Station San Diego obtained a range and bearing to the crew’s location to provide simulated rescue services. Rescue swimmers moved to the crew’s location via helicopter and lifted the pilots from the water in rescue baskets before transporting them back to Air Station San Diego, marking the drill complete.

Lt. Cmdr. Jack Shadwick, the standardization officer for U.S. Coast Guard Air Station San Diego, District 11, underscored the value of collaborating with Marines to develop a realistic rescue scenario rather than relying on dummies or equipment as a substitute for real people.

“This gave us a much better training opportunity and it allowed the Marines to realize everything that is involved in a rescue situation,” said Shadwick.

MAG-11 conducts quarterly in-house functional safety training, but the realistic at-sea rescue scenario introduced unforeseen variables that provided invaluable training for the Marines and Coast Guardsmen responding.

“The Coast Guard brings this exercise training requirement to the next level,” said Maj. Robin Leilimarrazzo, an aviation safety officer with VMFAT-502.

Coast Guardsmen also gained familiarity with pilot safety equipment specific to the F-35. Coast Guard rescue swimmers received hands on training with F-35 specific equipment while the Marines explained their function, improving their understanding on the capabilities and limitations of the gear, and the physical and mental state of a pilot post ejection. The Marines found confidence in refining rescue procedures during a realistic training exercise.

While others were engaged with the search and rescue efforts, U.S. Navy Lt. Brooke Barnson, an Aeromedical Safety Officer with MAG-11, focused on the pilots’ using the aviation survival equipment. Barnson trains MAG-11 aircrew on aviation physiology and aviation life support systems. Barnson’s interest is in the standard of the equipment and proficiency of the pilots in its usage.

“The aircrew need to know how to use their gear and the timeline in which that rescue asset is going to pick them up,” said Barnson. “This plays a role into when, how, and what they use to make them much more likely to be rescued. Among the most important outputs of the exercise are how the learning points impact their confidence in the survival systems and rescue assets.”

Marine Corps and Coast Guard planners are discussing further joint training opportunities. 

“The drill was a resounding success,” said Leilimarrazzo. “The integration between Coast Guard and Marine Corps assets was the true highlight of the exercise.”

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