SANTA RITA, Guam -- Guam Fire Department (GFD) and U.S. Coast Guard members conducted rescue hoist training at Sella Bay Overlook in Guam on March 8, 2023.
"We appreciate the ongoing strong relationship with Guam Fire and are eager to bring any capability to bear that benefits the people of Guam and our partners," said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam. "As the U.S. Coast Guard continues to adapt our approach to service in the region, we are working closely with U.S. Coast Guard District 14 and the team from the Air Station at Barbers Point to find the best ways to employ our aircrews and increase the amount of organic aviation support we have for search and rescue and law enforcement missions here."
Eight members of GFD's Battalion A worked with the aircrew of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter deployed to Guam from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii, and personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam response department. Guam Fire Department crews execute the majority of on-land search and rescue operations. They also maintain the best capability for on land response with a wealth of experience regarding the terrain and conditions.
“Our partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard on Guam has expanded dramatically over the years. The increase in U.S. Coast Guard assets assigned to Guam extends our potential for positive outcomes in search and rescue missions benefiting our island community," said Battalion Chief Roderick Meno, GFD rescue commander. “The opportunity to train together provided an avenue to test capabilities and share best practices. The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter’s availability gives us another valuable resource to conduct the diverse array of missions we perform here on Guam.”
The training allowed the crews to assess the procedures each agency is familiar with and practice hoisting a rescue basket and a rescue swimmer from the aircraft. For the aircrew, it also served as an area familiarization to better understand the terrain and winds common on Guam's southwest coast. This training occurred near the location of a recent case of a missing hiker, a common place for foot traffic. The trail quickly descends from the trailhead into the jungle with steep ravines and many trip hazards, and it is very hot whether people are under tree cover or exposed to the sun. The conditions may easily overcome inexperienced hikers.
The MH-65 Dolphin helicopter is a short-range recovery helicopter used by the crew to perform search and rescue, law enforcement, and homeland security missions. It is certified for all-weather and night-time operations, except for icy conditions, and it routinely deploys aboard certified cutters providing manned airborne surveillance and interdiction capabilities. The airframe was first added to the Coast Guard inventory in 1984 and has undergone several upgrades.
In recent memory, these operations mark the first deployment of a Dolphin helicopter crew to Guam. The District 14 assigned aircraft are primarily used as a search and rescue platform in the Main Hawaiian Islands and as an augment aboard major cutters on deployment to extend their range for search and rescue, law enforcement, and surveillance while at sea. The aircrews frequently participate in community relations events and subject matter exchanges to build awareness for service capabilities and encourage interest in the aviation career field.
"This asset is not a replacement for any other agency but another resource to help us accomplish our missions and serve the people of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands," said Simmons. "They are currently here on a six-week deployment as we field test the feasibility of their operating here in a greater capacity. This approach is an innovative way to employ aircrews in the Indo-Pacific for increased presence and value. We hope to get them out here more frequently and are pleased to have the support of the Air Station and the District 14 command."
The operations have precedent. In 1947 the service established a Coast Guard air detachment consisting of one PBY-6A Catalina, an amphibious aircraft, and crew at the Naval Air Station in Agana, Guam, to provide aerial logistics support for LORAN stations in the southern Marianas and Western Caroline Islands. The Catalina was well suited to operations in the islands, able to haul cargo but also land in the shallow lagoons and offload to skiffs. The primary mission of the air detachment was to resupply the Marianas section LORAN stations, although they did assist in search and rescue missions when needed. The need for Coast Guard air support decreased as the LORAN mission shifted over time and commercial aviation services became more readily available. The Coast Guard air detachment, by then called an air station, was disestablished in 1972.
U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam comprises nearly 300 personnel throughout the response, prevention, administrative, and logistics departments supporting the Joint Rescue Sub-Center, three fast response cutters, a small boat station, and a marine safety detachment in Saipan. The unit provides a significant portion of the U.S. Coast Guard's enduring regional presence serving the people of the Pacific by conducting our six major operational mission programs: maritime law enforcement, maritime response, maritime prevention, marine transportation system management, maritime security operations, and defense operations.