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Hitting the Beach : 106th Rescue Wing Trains for Winter Driving in Summer Beach Sands

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael O'Hagan
  • 106th Rescue Wing

Over 100 New York Air National Guard Airmen assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing got ready for wintertime bad weather emergencies in July, by conducting driver training on Long Island’s Atlantic beaches.

Driving military vehicles in the sands of beach at Smith Point County Park near Mastic Beach, replicates the same feel as driving in snow, explained Master Sgt. Richard Cestaro, the 106th’s ground transportation superintendent.

When bad weather hits, the 106th is responsible for providing a five vehicle National Guard response force with three Humvees and two Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle trucks and 20 personnel to response to emergencies on eastern Long Island.

Training on the beach in the summer, lets him build up a reservoir of Airmen who are familiar with the tactical vehicles and driving techniques, Cestaro said.

On July 9, Cestaro and Staff Sgt. Estefany Restrepo, the wing ground transportation dispatcher, teamed up to train seven Airmen on driving skills on the beach.

Having enough Airmen to operate vehicles is a “limiting factor” when the wing needs to provide “high-axle” vehicle operators for domestic response missions, said Master Sgt. Paul Clementi, the wing’s emergency management program manager.

Because the tactical vehicles, which are borrowed from the Army National Guard, aren’t operated on a day-to-day basis, there is a shortage of drivers, Cestaro said.

His solution was to give Airmen who were on duty for COVID-19 response missions a chance to get “stick time” on the beach, Cestaro said.

This gives them better situational awareness on how to properly operate these vehicles in adverse conditions, Cestaro explained.

“I may have a vehicle mechanic and a communications flight kid,” Cestaro said. “One’s got a beach pass and drives his truck out there all the time and the other’s got a Prius and he’s never even driven a four-wheel-drive vehicle before. This is blanket training for everyone.

The driver trainees learned how to ford the vehicles through water. They also practiced night driving and operating the radios.

After action reviews from weather mobilizations indicated that those were areas where Airmen wanted more training, Cestaro said.

“We properly train members how to operate these vehicles in storm surge, incorporating some basic land navigation and teaching them how to identify landmarks to determine if the water is too high to get through… Knock on wood, so far we have gotten 110 people through the class without any issue,” Cestaro said.

It's important to make sure each Airman is properly trained for the vehicle for which they’re operating, Cestaro said. Service members have lost their lives to vehicle accidents and rollovers and most of these can be prevented.

“I feel like we are also saving lives by giving this training, if that makes any sense,” Cestaro, said.

“When speaking with Cestaro, it is obvious that he loves what he does and has a drive, no pun intended, to make things better,” said Lt. Col. David Carrick, the 106th Rescue Wing deputy mission support officer.

“He and his team have made a significant difference for all and increased the New York National Guard’s domestic operations response capability while benchmarking training for others units to follow,” he added.

“Master Sgt. Cestaro put together an excellent class. It follows the regulations to a tee,” said New York Army National Guard Master Sgt. Jack Martilotta, a member of the 42nd Infantry Division’s headquarters battalion.

The team hopes F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, the 106th’s home, will become a New York National Guard facility for tactical vehicle operations because of the beach, Cestaro said.