Some training you never want to use.

I have just finished two weeks of seemingly non-aviation related coursework. Although you may think this about the numerous bible and theology classes I have taken over the last few years it is all related to the one purpose to serve as a missionary pilot in not always so very friendly parts of the world. This unfriendliness may or may not be a description of certain groups of people such as guerrillas, rebel movements or other hostiles but is equally a description of the natural environment in which I may come to operate in.

My instructors summed up the essence of this training as “Things that are good to know but that we hope you never will use”. The last couple of weeks we have focused on first aid training in a wilderness setting as well as survival training in the unfortunate event of a forced landing or crash out in nowhere.

We started with a week’s of Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA). Wilderness in this context is defined as that the patient is one hour or more away from any facility that may provide medical care. The purpose of receiving training in WAFA is to provide immediate care for a person until further help arrives. As a pilot, this will only be applicable if I go down in an aircraft and have to keep myself and any passengers in as good condition as possible until a rescue team arrives.

Training included class room sessions going over some of the human body anatomy, how to recognize certain medical conditions and what we ought to do about them. Some conditions of course we as WAFA responders may not be qualified to do anything about, but I was surprised that there is still a fair amount of things you can do to many different types of wounds to minimize the risk of the patient injuring himself even further. We also got to practice a lot. Our instructors had us play out many scenarios where some in the class would lay out in the snow somewhere simulating to have suffered some sort of injury while the others were sent out to find a patient, assess the situation and care for him as applicable. It was a fun and challenging course that I found very interesting and useful. Even if the course was pretty short with a lot of information dumped on me in a very short time I felt decently confident in practicing these new skills in real life if I had to.

This last week we switched gears a little bit from WAFA to survival training. This is certainly an area that I really enjoy being challenged in and I knew that we would spend three days out in the woods away from civilization which made me extra excited. We learned a lot about wilderness survival in many different types of environments such as desert, tropical jungle and snowy winters. Fortunately for me I have been somewhat exposed to exercises like this from other curriculums at other schools and had therefore been able to mentally prepare myself well for what may lay ahead. Being out in the woods outside of cell phone service with a mind focused on just being outside for some time is some of the most refreshing things I know. Being in school again makes it difficult to get out in nature, so I was very glad that I get college credit for doing some of my most favorite things.

When it came to out actual survival trip that lasted from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon it was forecasted to rain most of the time. Rain can be pleasant at times, but when it is close to freezing and there is already 1,5 feet of snow on the ground it usually a different story. We were allowed to bring any gear we wanted except for shelters, which we had to make from resources that we could find as well as a tarp and some parachute chord. For the first night we paired up to share a shelter with one other person but on the second night we had to provide for ourselves individually. I paired up with Stephen and with a good set of tools shared between us and ambitious mind we made a very comfortable shelter made out of sticks, chord, and the two tarps we had with us. We knew that wetness from both the ground and sky  would potentially become an issue, so we collected so much material that we managed to build an entire floor so that we did not have to put our sleeping pads on the ground. Then we suspended a tarp on top of an A-shaped ridge made out of a log and sticks for the roof. In the end we had a very robust and comfortable shelter. It was all together well built, except for that the roof perhaps was not quite high enough. When it came to bed-time only one of us could move around inside at the time, but well asleep we slept really well and the small space warmed up quickly.

The next day we were told to make individual shelters. We were allowed to use the material we collected the day before, so me and Stephen split the sticks we had between us and we ended up with two pretty good shelters. Mine was of very similar design as the night before except that I made it high enough for me to be able to sit upright in it. Then I elevated the floor with a couple cross-beams so that the sticks I was sleeping on had an air space between them and the ground. That way the floor wouldn’t soak up so much moisture from the ground and keep an insulating space of air between me and the earth.

We also had outdoor classroom sessions about how to make fires, how to split wood into good sized pieces and seeing the effectiveness of a shelter consisting of only a garbage bag. For the session with the garbage bag we were instructed how to cut an appropriately sized hole for our faces to stick out so that we would breathe outside of the bag while inside it and then they sent us off in the woods to sit under a tree until they called us back. I was a bit doubtful to how this piece of plastic would keep me warm, but after a while I could really feel the difference of having the bag compared to not having the bag. I got so comfortable with it that as I was sitting in the snow with my back against a tree I almost fell asleep. Soon afterwards I heard a whistle and we were called back to camp. As an emergency shelter to just quickly get out of the coldest end wettest conditions upon an emergency this shelter was not a bad idea.

After we woke up the second night we prepared for a scenario where we (my class) were acting as a search and rescue team to find some survivors of a plane crash. This was another exercise and there were no actual victims, only staged actors for our practice. We were assigned different roles in this scenario reflecting more or less what it may have looked like in an actual operation. We had roles such as search team leaders, medic team leaders and evacuation team leaders. I was appointed Incident Commander (IC) to direct and overlook the big picture of the situation. It was a very good, but also stressful exercise where we quickly had to make decisions over who out of the victims to treat first, who we could evacuate and in which order as we were too few to evacuate all at once. Over all I think we got everything done in an orderly fashion with good team work and that each person in our team took his responsibility to fulfill his role. Flexibility was of high demand from all of us and for a first time try I think we handled it pretty well. Over all it was a very fruitful experience and it was great to be put in a leadership role with full support of a hard working team.

Although this training has been a lot of fun, we train for it with a reason. The work that we are training to do as pilot/mechanics in hostile environments of the world has proven through history that it must include advanced first aid and wilderness survival skills. Although traveling by air is still the statistically safest means of travel that we know of it still happens that equipment fail in the most inconvenient situations. So even if we get equipped with some fundamentals in emergency skills we wish to never enter into situations where these skills will come in handy.

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