SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It was not a show of strength on the South Georgia coast. But it was a show, a rare chance for civilians to watch military training that doubled as an actual recovery mission.
“I’m not used to having non-military people watching us do our operations. It made the excitement a little bit higher and also made me a little more nervous,” Capt. Keith Basnett said.
The introductions of nerves helped the operations off of Osabawa Island last week to simulate unexpected challenges of a combat cargo lift.
But the rare training in public also had a public benefit.
“During Hurricane Dorian, a number of buoys had washed up on several of the beaches just south of Savannah. St. Catherine’s and Osabaw in particular,” LTC. Kenneth Ferguson said.
The 2-3 Aviation Regiment, a general aviation support battalion, retrieved those buoys last week - with eight missions over two days in conjuncture with the Coast Guard and the local community.
“Normally, we can train that out at one of the stage fields at Fort Stewart lifting concrete blocks that are purpose built for training sling loads - and so it was really neat for us to work with the local community. The St. Catherine’s Foundation worked with us, surveyed what we were trying to do and we showed them exactly how we were going to come in and out, minimizing any possible damage to the island.”
The buoys were an ideal tool to train crews for what they would usually be lifting.
“Food, medical supplies, ammunition and other items.”
But they were not good for the beach, where Dorian’s high tide had deposited and stranded them.
“They’re made out of foam materials and steel so that they can withstand the harsh environment of the ocean and they would have been there for quite some time.”
But they we removed quickly and successfully over two days with eight missions helping train eight different aviation crews using Shinook and Black Hawk helicopters.
“It went flawlessly for me. We always have plans for contingencies in any mission we do, and, in this mission, we had to use zero contingencies.
“We would have to fly those hours anyway and it was quality training because we’re lifting a unique item off a challenging location and depositing it into the water. So, we get some water training as well. So, for us, the benefit was threefold.”
The Coast Guard retrieved the buoys and will restore them at a cost savings. And the community got a first-hand look at and first-hand help military efficiency it usually only hears about.
“A few of them actually asked, ‘are those the buoys that were stranded on Osawba and St. Catherine’s’?’ And I was like, ‘yes, they were.’ And they were just immensely grateful that we were able to get the buoys out of the beach and back to the Coast Guard.”