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Airmen complete first HALO drop of Operation Southern Partner

A Search and Rescue team from  the 48th Rescue Squadron, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., part a team known as the Guardian Angel Weapons System or GAWS, jump along side of Chilean airman from the back of a C-17 Globemaster III over Iquique Air Base, Chile during Operation Southern Partner, Oct., 30. The aircraft is assigned to the 535th Airlift Squadron, Hickam AFB, Hawaii. OSP is an in-depth, two-week subject matter exchange emphasizing partnership, cooperation and sharing of information with partner nation Air Forces in Latin America. (U.S. Air Force photo\Tech. Sgt Roy Santana)

A Search and Rescue team from the 48th Rescue Squadron, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., part a team known as the Guardian Angel Weapons System or GAWS, jump along side of Chilean airman from the back of a C-17 Globemaster III over Iquique Air Base, Chile during Operation Southern Partner, Oct., 30. The aircraft is assigned to the 535th Airlift Squadron, Hickam AFB, Hawaii. OSP is an in-depth, two-week subject matter exchange emphasizing partnership, cooperation and sharing of information with partner nation Air Forces in Latin America. (U.S. Air Force photo\Tech. Sgt Roy Santana)

IQUIQUE, Chile (AFNS) -- Ten thousand feet over the driest desert on earth, an Air Force C-17 opened its doors and emptied the majority of its passengers into the vast, arid wilderness. The unlikely location proved the perfect landing zone for the multi-national team of rescue jumpers as the region is unobstructed, clear and the primary training location for the Chilean Air Force rescue jumpers participating in Operation Southern Partner Oct. 30th.
The mission, a High Altitude Low Opening air drop, took place in Iquique, Chile, home of several Chilean Air Force front-line units and site of the first in a series of search and rescue exchanges taking place as part of Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern)'s Operation Southern Partner.
Operation Southern Partner is an AFSOUTH-led event aimed at providing intensive, periodic subject matter exchanges with partner nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus. The all-new program features more than 70 U.S. Air Force subject matter experts from about 25 career fields working alongside partner nation military members in similar career specialties during week-long exchanges.
The 15 person team of pararescue jumpers had a target landing zone just outside the Chilean Air Force installation in Iquique. The multi-national effort included members of the 48th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. and Chilean Fuerzas Especiales from the Chilean Aviation Group Number 2 based out of Iquique, Chile.
Capt. Becky Russo, the mission commander for the air drop mission, and pilot with the 535th Airlift Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii lauded the cooperative nature of the simulated rescue.
"American rescue, loadmaster and aircrew personnel demonstrated some of the unique capabilities of the C-17 to the Chilean jumpers...for many of the PJs it was the first time they had ever jumped out of a C-17 before," she said. "And for some of the crew of this aircraft, this mission was the first time they had performed an airdrop of this sort.... our team had to work together to ensure everyone had a safe and effective exercise event."
"It was an awesome experience," said Staff Sgt. Tony Mercado, the jumpmaster from the 48th RS. "I only wish we had more time to work with these pros."
"The Chileans are impressive jumpers, they know quite a bit and are not afraid to take charge," added Mercado.
"The primary purpose of these missions is to ensure our team is ready and able to work together in times of crisis," explained Staff Sgt. Jose Cervantes, a pararescue jumper participating in OSP from the 48th RS. "Should there be a natural disaster or crisis situation, we're now able to operate more effectively as a combined team because we've practiced together during events such as Operation Southern Partner."
Lt. Col. Mitch Hanscom, the OSP officer-in-charge, observed the mission first hand. "It was amazing to see the poise and calm of the Chilean and Air Force team...I could tell they had worked closely together during the week to prepare for this mission as they executed their jumps with a great deal of team cohesion," said Colonel Hanscom.
"I'm looking forward to our next pararescue mission -- taking the lessons learned today and making both of our teams better prepared for a possible crisis situation," he added.
The next Operation Southern Partner pararescue event will occur next week outside of Montevideo, Uruguay.

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