HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
Air Force Reserve and National Guard personnel from Utah put their search and rescue skills to the test during a training exercise dubbed "Operation Lone Survivor" in the rocky terrain of Utah's west desert Saturday.
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Military personnel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing, Utah Air National Guard 151st Air Refueling Wing, and Utah Army National Guard 211th Aviation Group joined forces to rescue two downed F-16 pilots near the Utah Test and Training Range.
"This exercise is important because we never know what situation we're going to find ourselves in during combat," said Col. Bryan Radliff, 419th FW commander. "Training like this is an opportunity to test our skills together."
On the ground, the stranded pilots had a chance to sharpen their skills in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, better known as SERE, until help arrived from the air.
AH-64 Apaches from the 211th AG circled the vast landscape to locate the pilots and take out "enemies" on the ground before UH-60 Black Hawks touched down to rescue the pilots. Two F-16 Fighting Falcons, flown by 419th FW reservists, provided cover and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 151st ARW was on hand to refuel the jets. Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, flew in the backseat of one of the F-16s for a firsthand look at the integrated training effort.
"Exercises such as this one are essential to our ability to function efficiently as a military," Burton said. "We train hard as a multi-service force so that when the fateful moment comes, we are ready to perform, to fight, and to win our nation's conflicts."
Reservists from the 419th Security Forces Squadron also had a key role in the exercise, protecting the pilots on the ground until the helicopters arrived. Some SFS Airmen also played the part of enemy soldiers who were racing to find the downed pilots.
"This operation shows that Utah's Guard and Reserve forces have the experience and capability to execute this mission in combat," said Maj. Bart Wilbanks, 419th FW pilot who helped plan the exercise. "Our part-time military personnel are a pretty impressive force."
Utah is home to more than 12,000 Guard and Reserve members. These men and women serve part time in the military, working one weekend each month and two weeks each year. They regularly volunteer to deploy in support of contingency operations and humanitarian relief efforts around the world.