The Recovery of HAVOC 1-3 - Ruby Echo After Action Report (Part 2)
Updated: May 19, 2020
1908c RUBY ECHO was a Blackline Event simulating a downed aircraft with an aircrew on the run, and a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) team tasked with locating and extracting them. Participants were required to attend workup sessions to qualify for the Task Force and to align the experience and knowledge of the participants. The event took place 09AUG19 to 11AUG19, and used a separate airsoft event to create a hostile environment for the operation.
Part 1 Link - Click Here
Part 2 Link - This Post
PART 2 - HAVOC 1-3 GOES TO GROUND
HAVOC 1-3 had reached a site they felt would provide suitable protection until communications could be established with the Task Force. Speaking with 1-3a, the flight crew had put considerable thought into site selection in order to maximize concealment and isolation.
“Our hide position was selected off of a dead end side trail that was not on any maps we had studied. The side trail itself was on a cliff with no tree canopy and was overlooking a swamp which would become an area of activity during the morning. The lack of tree canopy on the cliff would give us opportunities to try and signal for rescue. We reasoned that hiding off of this dead end would be an illogical place for indigenous forces to look for us. We gathered brambles and twigs from the area adjacent to our hide site. We built two hasty hides that concealed us with thin layers of brambles spread out around our position and got some much needed rest.”
The build of their hide site was hasty but effective party due to training sessions focusing on creating low profile concealment. One of the challenges faced by HAVOC was they had no information on enemy disposition. Their ignorance would not last for long, and changed shortly after they settled into their hide.
“It was not long before we started to hear talking, snapping of twigs and other man made sounds coming from the swamp. We knew we were not alone. We quickly discussed ERV plans and trimmed the branches towards our exit in case we had to leave in a hurry. While laying up in our hide position we began to hear local militia talking and walking around the forest. What started out as voices and the sounds of movement soon grew to the clackering of firefights by mid day. At times, we could see green and tan forces cross in front of our position at approximately 20 meters away. We surmised by the amount of foot traffic that we must have been close to one of their CP.”
Too close to the militia forces to maneuver away, HAVOC held tight and waited for their radio batteries to charge.
CSAR, SECDET, and ISR Teams
Back at the safe house, Teams 15 and 16 were fully formed and were finalizing operations. Over the next few hours, 15A and 16A collaborated with 09B to work out the finer points of the plan to rescue HAVOC 1-3.
The proposed course of action for the rescue component of operations was for transport elements to lift 15 and 16 to the AO in two separate lifts. The insertion points varied based on where HAVOC was reported to be. If the flight crew was in the north, they’d be reached by an insertion from the northwest, over a rail line, and down into their position. If the crew was found in the south, teams would insert off a main surface route and RV with them there. A key feature of both contingencies was a strategic uniform change. Gathered intelligence had determined which militia was wearing predominently green uniforms, and which was using tan. All elements of 15 and 16 had a full change of clothes on standby so they could effectively merge with whatever militia force was supporting them at the time.
If contact was made, liaison Teams (14) would be called into action, working to finally leverage the relationships built over the last 24 hours in order to clear the area of militia forces, or to actively use the militia forces as protection for the operation. CSAR (15) would then push onto the HAVOC 1-3 location, while the SECDET (16) would hold back to provide security. LP teams (03) would begin to collapse down onto the flight crew’s position to provide extra security. The 15 and 16 elements would then extract HAVOC back to vehicles and load out. Any remaining elements would be lifted out as transport cycled between the extraction points and the safe house.
In order to accomplish this, 15 and 16 set to work training. Examining the course of action, several aspects of the operation required rehearsal to ensure success. Mounting and dismounting vehicles was one of the first skillsets requring practice. How would weapons be stored? What was the seating positions? Entry and exit order? How would security be established during the process? Personnel from 15 and 16 dedicated a portion of training time to working through these problems. ingress and egress to the site, including vehicle mount and dismount. A major focus of the training was working out reaction to contacts, as well as practicing the transport of non-ambulatory patients.
TF191 had also began their first ISR flights. Understaffed but capable, 02C launched a drone from the south and began searching the area for signs of HAVOC 1-3. Footage was live streamed back to the TOC for additional analysis. It would be the first of multiple attempts to identify the location of the flight crew through the day. HAVOC was ready and waiting for the opportunity.
“Overhead we could hear the humming and buzzing of what sounded like a giant mosquito. We knew that CSAR would be looking for us and we surmised that it must have been drones that were looking for us. It sounded as if it was passing directly above us at times. We quickly deployed the VS-17 panels with a black “Y” taped on as rehearsed on the dead end trail with no tree canopy.”
Without any positive response from the drone, HAVOC decided that using higher visibility methods was worth the risk.
“We took stock of the situation once again. We had been on the run since yesterday night cross country and we still were not able to get in radio contact with CSAR. Our chances to signal our position at night would be much more difficult. We had to take the chance when the area was not as active. When we heard the drone again a few hours later, we once again deployed the VS-17 panel. This time we added coloured smoke nearby in hopes that we would be spotted.”
Unfortunately, ISR would be unable to spot these signals and HAVOC would remain undetected by ISR.
In The Battlespace
As the day wore on, units across the AO were dealing with sporadic close calls and engagements. Having established a solid relationship with their militia counterparts, 14B determined they were in a position to take a proactive approach in locating the flight crew. Donning M81 woodland to match their militia partners, 14B, 14E, and 14F pushed out to conduct a reconnaissance patrol. Thanks to the information collected by the operations center and the LPs placed in the field, 14B was confident that most of the conflict would be centered around 17T NJ 6807 2935. With a fallback plan in place, the unit pushed wide to search for HAVOC 1-3. The patrol was reasonably quiet. At one point, a single enemy militia combatant appeared on a trail. He was placed under observation, but it was determined he would not lead to any critical sites. With no other evidence of the flight crew, 14B shifted priorities.
“We had decided to push closer to shale hill in order to put eyes on the area and maybe direct Green assaults on target.”
That’s when things went sideways.
“Literally as we broke tree line to the path, 14E engaged an enemy soldier as he raised his rifle at us.”
14B was now engaged. The 14 units had a critical role in the operation, intending to facilitate movements of other TF191 members and the HAVOC 1-3 team. Knowing this, the course of action for 14B was predetermined and clear.
“Immediately 14F and I went to a knee and began covering 14E. I called ‘set’ to let him know 14F and I were now covering at which point he peeled and set and we began a peeling retreat until we had safely broken contact. It was so fucking text book, you'd think it was training.”
14B explains proudly...
“We peeled back approximately 60 meters and broke off into the bush with no enemy contacts. It was the most beautiful peel out you'd ever see 3 mustachioed guys do.”
Life at the 03 LPs involved less shooting but was still intense. 03B says of their day,
“Every little physical action had to be kept in mind as within a hide everything makes noise. Keeping awake and our attention focused on observation and our mission was also a challenge especially considering our lack of sleep at the time, the energy expenditure in traveling with rucks as well as the digging the hide itself. Time was set aside for rest however due to the vicinity of militia forces, noise from said forces and reports of movement onto our location prevented any solid rest.”
The attention required to stay focused was a serious challenge. 03B...
“Used radio with HAVOC 1-3, Militia forces and Zello within the task force. Due to the noise reducing earbuds we had access too, at least one member of the hide always had an ear or two free, to listen for enemy movement. Exceptions for this was during HAVOC 1-3 comms windows, where both members were prepared to answer HAVOC 1-3. “
03A had a bit more space and was rotating their sleep schedules to maintain alertness. With a fully underground hide, they extended an antenna through the roof in order to get reception. It raised their risk of exposure, and there were a few incidents that seemed to confirm their fears.
“Two instances where we heard what sounded like footfalls immediately outside the hide, and one instance where we heard something like a dog sniffing around but no contact was ever made.”
One of the other units experiencing intensity was a member of the 14A team. 14C had remained in their team hide conducting observation and SIGINT. The regular reporting of sitreps from the unit changed sometime after 1400 when militia traffic began to increase near the site. It began with the sound of voices and weapons fire 80m to the south. Then, the confident clear voice became a hushed whisper.
“14A, 14C. I just had approximately seven to eight militia walk directly around the hide. They’re moving North West, how copy.” “Be advised they were moving in two columns, side by side.”
This information flowed up to the TOC and was then confirmed by the 14B unit who saw large numbers of militia forces leave their base of operations.
14C observation and SIGINT work continued to yield actionable intelligence as militia forces spoke freely near the hide site. 14C was able to determine units were using a whistle as a link-up signal and were attempting to feign assaults by creating noise signatures on the trail. The militia exhibited a moment of prescience when 14C reported that some of the soldiers had said...
“...something about their comms might become compromised”.
The response from 14A was clear.
“If they do a channel change, just find them and get back on.”
Not long after, 14C witnessed the forces moving off to assault their target.
“14A, this is 14C. Be advised, they’re advancing on enemy position as we speak, over.”
“Our radio had charged enough during the day to make a transmission. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1745. Only 15 minutes until we were were expected in our SERE plan to broadcast. We had to assume that CSAR would be ready to receive. The plan was once every three hours, on the hour for three minutes on the primary and three minutes on the secondary channel.”
HAVOC 1-3a begins. Their hide location had indeed been only 15 meters from an enemy command post but had miraculously remained undetected for over 12 hours. Militias were engaging each other in such close proximity that rounds had impacted the trees around t