Learning the ropes vital at Hawk Mountain Ranger School

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Elisabeth A. Matulewicz
  • 111th Fighter Wing
TSgt Matthew P. Youngers and Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Haas, both of the 111th Maintenance Squadron, Pa. Air National Guard, attended the Team Commander Course July 12-20 at the Hawk Mountain Ranger School in Kempton, Pa.

A variety of classes taught during the day included: equipment and techniques used in team searches and rescues, navigation, cutting tools, survival, first aid and buddy care, and woodsmanship skills. The students then participated in a field training exercise where they're evaluated in order to graduate the school and receive Ranger Grade certification. The emphasis: leadership and followship, character building and team work.

"I've learned basic mechanical advantages which help with the rope rescue situations, both low and high slope angle rescue and the basics of rope repelling," said Youngers. "The basics of my harness and how it's setup, how to get over obstructions in your line and continue on, types of knots, safety issues to pay attention to, and communication with team members."

The course is both physically and mentally challenging.

"We PT with the whole squadron," Youngers explained. "After PT, we run the obstacle course and do the morning run, and then start the rope work. In between the rope work, they feed in classes and keep you busy. We're sleeping out in tents."

"You want to make sure you're doing everything correctly so you don't injure yourself or others around you, said Youngers. "The whole time when you're up there, the longer it takes to figure it out, the longer you're up there hanging off of your body weight."

There are several reasons why people sign up for the course.

"They're looking for a challenge or to earn Ranger grade, 3rd, 2nd, 1st class Ranger grades, Advanced Ranger, Expert Range," said Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Rope Instructor Lt. Col. Robert Gardner. "The students receive certification for Rope I, II and III which is a fire safety course and they earn a certificate from Lehigh Carbon Community College, Allentown Pa."

When training in a rope rescue, safety is key.

"Our equipment, rules and regulations are straight out of Fire Academy, and follow National Fire Protection Association 1006 standards," said Gardner. "All of the equipment, techniques and tower safety meet the standards.

The training has real world implications. "We can handle emergencies," said Gardner. "Some hikers are climbing and one falls and they can't walk out or can't be extracted without putting a stokes basket over the edge to get the person up. If someone falls into a quarry, we teach them to do a slope evacuation."

A one person rescue is called a 'pick off'," CAP Capt. Heather Phillips explained. "A person repels down, attaches the patient's harness into their system and lowers the patient down."

"And a belayer is a person who monitors the main line," CAP Lt. Col. Jeff Riley explained. "They have the ability to slow or stop a rappeller's descent."

"People descending from the towers are depending on their belayers to be there as an extra safety precaution," said Youngers. "If a person is coming down the side of the tower and their break hand slip and they're sliding down the rope, the people on the ground put tension on the rope and it locks up their descent device."

The last couple days have been a little bit tougher for Sergeant Youngers. "With battling poison ivy, doing the physical exercises and the rope work - it's physically demanding."

"It's been a good experience," said Youngers. "I've made a lot of friends. And [it's interesting] to see what the Civil Air Patrol members are doing. Here they are training and taking these classes all on their own."

Hawk Mountain Ranger School is the longest running search and rescue school in the nation. HMRS is located approx. 5 miles from the town of Hamburg in Berks County. It was established in 1956, encompasses seventy-seven acres, and the Appalachian Trail runs through the training area. It's operated by the Civil Air Patrol's Pennsylvania Wing's Operations Section. The Civil Air Patrol is a volunteer, non-profit auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.