Despite the debilitating impact of sequestration, the U.S. Air Force still managed to hold its largest ever personnel recovery exercise this year. Angel Thunder, a two-week exercise that tests and refines the ability to locate and recover those who are isolated from friendly control and return them to safety, concluded on April 20 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, and this year included nearly 3,000 personnel from all U.S. uniformed services, a number of federal civilian agencies, participants and observers from more than 20 countries, and local law enforcement, emergency management, and medical officials from several local jurisdictions in Arizona.
Begun in 2006, Angel Thunder was designed initially to give Air Force rescue units the training they couldn’t get through participation in other exercises. With the promulgation of a presidential document in 2008 which directed all federal agencies with personnel overseas to develop programs to ensure their protection should they become isolated, Angel Thunder’s focus was also moved toward interagency cooperation and involved more international partners.
Angel Thunder 2013 included international participants from countries such as Colombia, Brazil, and Singapore, working together and with their U.S. counterparts to refine the techniques for locating, supporting, and recovering individuals who are victims of natural or manmade disaster or who have been taken hostage. The exercise opened with a scenario demonstrating Defense Department support to civil authorities in natural disasters and mass casualty situations, with military forces responding to a major traffic accident in the Grand Canyon by recovering ‘injured’ persons and transporting them to medical treatment facilities.
A small exercise in the beginning, that was held every 18 months, Angel Thunder is now an annual, inter-service, interagency, international exercise that covers an area in the southwestern United States approximately the size of the country of Afghanistan and involves several hundred fixed and rotary wing aircraft in realistic scenarios ranging from the rescue of single individuals to providing medical treatment and evacuation to victims of mass casualties.