First Air National Guard STEM Camp at 106th Rescue Wing Published Sept. 4, 2023 By SSgt Sean Madden 106th Rescue Wing F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, NY. -- Twenty-four children of Airmen assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, got a first-hand look at how the Air Force uses science, technology, engineering and math during a special camp program that ran from August 3 to August 6 at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base. The boys and girls, ranging from seventh graders to high school seniors, were taking part in the first Department of Defense STEM Camp hosted by the 106th Rescue Wing. This was the first time any National Guard unit had hosted this program, according to Col. Shaun Fitzgerald, the wing commander. “That is a huge accomplishment, not only for the base but for the facilitators that made this happen,” said Col. Shaun Fitzgerald, Commander of the 106th Rescue Wing. The Defense Department funded program is designed to help encourage community engagement with the military while providing educational programs and activities designed to interest kids in STEM programs. During the four days, the students learned how to load cargo on an HC-130 Combat King II search and rescue aircraft, how the wing communicates, how damaged aircraft are repaired and how the wing would respond to a humanitarian crisis. The climax for the camp were flights onboard the HC-130 Combat King II Cargo Aircraft and the HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters which the wing operates. Each student was credited with 22 hours of volunteer time and top performers were presented with awards. This year’s camp was a pilot program, according to Col. Glyn Weir, commander of the wing’s mission support group, who planned the event. The goal for the future is to invite students from local high school and vocational schools as well as military kids, he said. The program curriculum centered around capabilities of the106th and how the wing would respond to a major crisis, in this case an earthquake in Estonia. The students were given a briefing on a catastrophic earthquake there and were tasked to plan and execute a humanitarian response. All the scenarios the campers encountered were borrowed from real world mission experiences. It’s a unique approach to STEM, said Weir. Students were given a comprehensive look at what a rescue effort entails and the total team effort that contributes to saving lives. The first day included a presentation on the history of the 106th Rescue Wing and a base tour, along with an initial briefing on the simulated mission to Estonia. Then the practical lessons began. Students had to generate aircraft load plans, calculate weight and balance, and learn about other related technologies, Weir explained. Students went to a simulated aircraft loading area and measured several vehicles, including a Humvee and a 20-ton forklift, to calculate the centerline of the equipment weight. The data was critical to safely loading an aircraft for the humanitarian aid portion of the objective, Weir said. On day two the students were told they were in Estonia and introduced to the maintenance section of the unit and an unforeseen obstacle to accomplishing their mission. The students were taught how to respond to, and repair a birdstrike, according to Master Sgt. Joseph D’Esposito, the fabrication supervisor for the 106th Maintenance Squadron and a STEM Camp instructor. Students were shown the steps of inspecting materials, received instruction on how to use equipment to replace the metal that is the skin of an HC-130. They got hands-on experience in the application of aviation rivets and metal bending tools. The campers also inspected an aircraft engine with a borescope camera, which can be inserted in tight and hard to reach areas for visual inspection. The campers stopped into the communications flight of the 106th Rescue Wing, where they were introduced to cyber security, internet technologies and radio communication. The students disassembled decommissioned computers, operated a degaussing machine to erases hard drives for secure disposal and learned how a computer network is kept secure. Colin Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old student, said it was interesting to see the complexity involved in processes that otherwise seemed simple. While, the equipment impressed the campers, the way every Airman played a role was impressive too, said 15-year-old Paige Rittberg. “It’s everyone, “ she said. “They all connect even if they’re not in the same building.” Day three built upon what the students learned the previous days. They received preflight briefings about landmarks and obstructions that could interfere with helicopter operations, weather, navigation and relaying intelligence for personnel recovery over telephone and radio. The lessons learned culminated in a scenario where students coordinated the helicopter rescue of injured people. Campers used their new knowledge to guide HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and crews to people in need of medevac and the hoisting of the patients. “The students had no idea what was in store for them in the tactical operations exercise,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Graziano, of member of the 106th Communications Flight plans and implementation section. “They definitely rose to that occasion and understood the importance of sharing information and communication and the most important thing we do, which is save lives,” Graziano said. The simulations ended on day four with actual flights on both the HC-130 and HH-60. Every student flew in both airframes from F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, out along the coast of Long Island and back. A graduation ceremony concluded the four-day event. The 106th Rescue Wing, based at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., operates and maintains the HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft, and the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. The 106th Rescue Wing is home to a special warfare squadron with pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, specializing in rescue and recovery, and deploys for domestic and overseas operations.