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Colombian Army’s Air Assault Division Supports Rescue Missions and Firefighting Operations

Colombian Army’s Air Assault Division Supports Rescue Missions and Firefighting Operations

By Dialogo
September 16, 2015

Very good.

Colombia's Company of Search and Combat Rescue (C-SAR for its acronym in English), part of the Army's Air Assault Division (DAVAA, for its acronym in Spanish), has carried out 154 search and rescue operations nationwide since January 1st - a feat encompassing the evacuation of 244 Soldiers, 55 wounded enemy combatants, and 44 civilians.

Meanwhile, the Army's 25th Battalion Company of Aeronautical Firefighters has made its own contribution to rescue efforts in the country, battling nearly 50 wildfires in the departments of Boyacá, Cundinamarca, and Tolima.

The two units and their recent records of success demonstrate a Colombian Army that has become versatile and effective in ensuring safety for the people of Colombia, no matter what the challenge.

The C-SAR group

Ten Special Forces Troops formed the C-SAR group on January 14, 2000, dedicating their efforts to rescuing and safekeeping fellow Troops. Since then, the unit has since grown in size and importance and has expanded to cover the entire country, said Captain Gabriel Acosta, a C-SAR officer.

“The importance of the Search and Combat Rescue Company for the National Army is that this unit’s mission guarantees the survival of the members of the Armed Forces.”

Currently, the C-SAR has 100 members distributed throughout all of the Army’s divisions; all are trained in combat, rescue missions, and humanitarian assistance and operate in jungle, mountain, urban, and amphibian terrains.

In each of these operational environments, C-SAR’s members use a variety of rescue techniques mainly associated with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, including, among others, STABO – the extraction of a stabilized body via a harness attached to hovering Black Hawks – the use of air rescue vests, and complex landing maneuvers for non-combat situations. Through these and other techniques, C-SAR’s Soldiers have rescued 10,378 Troops, 2,131 enemy combatants, and 646 civilians since the unit’s inception 15 years ago. In August alone, C-SAR Soldiers rescued six service members in the departments of Caquetá and Huila.

“Without a unit with these characteristics and skills, many Armed Forces members wouldn’t have been saved and rescued,” Capt. Acosta said.

Aeronautical firefigthers

Similarly, the 25th Division’s Company of Aeronautical Firefighters has grown in relevance in recent years.

Aeronautical firefighters have existed for more than two decades, but until recently they were limited to handling accidents or fires near Military bases, according to Captain Juan López, the group’s commander. Now, their mandate extends far beyond that – a fortunate occurrence given a surge in wildfires in recent years.

As their mandate has grown, so has the unit and its capabilities. Today, the Company of Aeronautical Firefighters is composed of 34 highly-trained service members who use land and air vehicles to fight wildfires, primarily in the departments surrounding the military base at Tolemaida, located in the center of Colombia. The force uses 4x4 armored vehicles to coordinate land operations, and UH-1 Bell, UH-60 Black Hawk, and other kinds of helicopters to support air operations, which are indispensable in major wildfire scenarios.

In those cases, the unit uses Bambi Buckets to pour between 400 and 500 gallons of a mix of water and fire retardant chemicals to subdue blazes.

They've proven particularly useful in the last two months, as Colombia’s harsh dry season this year has led to a spike in wildfires. From January to early September, the Company of Aeronautical Firefighters has combated twice the number of wildfires it dealt with in all of 2014, an indication of the unit’s growing role, according to Capt. López, who expects the total number of operations for the year to reach almost 100.

“We want to participate in an active and proactive manner in the control of forest fires at a national level. We want to make our mission a constitutional mission to support this task jointly and coordinated with the rest of the Armed Forces and with Colombia’s firefighters.”