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On Saturday, November 21st, members from the Snohimish County Volunteer Search and Rescue Helicopter Rescue Team joined the Washington Army Air National Guard 1st Battalion - 140th Aviation Regiment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord as part of their continuing joint training program. This joint training helps familiarize the Helicopter Rescue Team with equipment and procedures unique to the UH-60 Blackhawk used by the Guard.

The Guard brought two models of the Blackhawk, a UH-60A+ and UH-60L. The primary difference, as far as rescue operations are concerned, is that the UH-60A+ has an internal hoist which aides in bringing subjects inside the cabin, and the UH-60L has an external hoist.

Rescue Techinicians and Flight Medics of the HRT were trained in how to use the two-person rescue seat, as well as how to secure a patient using a SKED. The HRT crew were given thorough instruction, and then each member went through one rehearsal on the ground prior to practicing with the aircraft in hover. Each crew had an opportunity to go through one rotation in each airframe.

As the HRT team photographer, I had the incredible opportunity of being a practice patient and was hoisted up to one of the helicopters in hover. As any aircrew will say, it's all fun and games on the ground, but once those blades start turning, it's a completely different story. I had been hoisted up to the HRT's Huey several times before and found that to be quite a pleasant experience. Using the Screamer Suit, you lie comfortably on your back and thanks to a tagline, you don't have to worry about any spinning or really even any sense of height above the ground, as you can really only look up at the helicopter. The rescue seat, however, was a different story. It spun around quite a bit. Although it wasn't very noticeable until we got closer to the helicopter, the effect really hit me once we stopped spinning and entered the cabin. I'm very thankful for the professionalism and training of the crew, because the dizziness would have rendered me completely disoriented.

One has to keep in mind the significant difference in the missions these two units provide. The HRT doesn't have quite the time crunch that the Guard has, as they're training requires them to be ready to evacuate soldiers from combat zones. Taglines to reduce spinning are a luxury. Either way, you're in the hands of expertly trained crews who are there to help get you out of very dangerous situations, and am honored to be able to have this first-hand experience with both organizations.