Operational Readiness Inspection exercise turns real-world

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFMCNS) -- An Operational Readiness Inspection exercise turned into a real-world search and rescue mission Dec. 6 when a 116th Air Control Wing aircrew was diverted to aid a downed Marine AV-8B Harrier jet pilot. According to Capt. Jody Strong, 12th Airborne Command and Control Squadron aircraft commander, the 23-member crew had been tasked as a part of their ORI to set up an orbit off an area called JSTARS 6 where they practice war games for the inspection.

"Upon arrival we were notified that an aircraft had gone down and there was a downed pilot," he said. "We were re-tasked to participate and see if we could be of assistance." At that time they headed south off the coast of St. Augustine, Fla., where the Harrier went down, set up another orbit and handed over radio control to their mission crew commander.

Maj. Rodney Singleton, 12th ACCS mission crew commander, said when they arrived at the newly established orbit, they first established who was there.

"There were a number of assets already out there and once we figured out what was going on, we took on the role of airborne mission commander," he said. "We had a number of other assets check in with us who wanted to help. We held those guys off until they were needed, and once assets were done and needed replacing we brought those replacements in."

In addition to the 12th ACCS, airborne and surface vessels from the Navy and Coast Guard were also part of the mission, and a team effort resulted in a safe recovery of Marine Capt. Jason Thomsen, assigned to Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C.

Captain Strong and Major Singleton agreed that although this is not everyday business for the squadron, they were happy to have been able to help.

"We go up, and we practice all the time for real world," said the captain. "It was a good feeling to come home and know that the downed (pilot) was picked up safely."

"It's what we do," said Major Singleton. "It's what we're paid to do, to make sure we get our own back and that's what we did."

Both men also agreed that the entire crew played an equally important role in the mission.

"We worked together as one unit and that's what pulled this mission off - teamwork," said the major.

Once the six- and a-half hour mission was complete the crew went back to their inspection.

"We heard the pilot is alive and well with no injuries," said Captain Strong. "We couldn't have done it without the entire crew."