Air Station Astoria’s flight crews “Cowboy Up” for MH-60 Rodeo

ASTORIA, Ore. — There are no bucking broncos, lariats or angry bulls with names like Tornado or Whiplash, but that didn’t stop the flight crews of Air Station Astoria, Ore., from coming out for the Third Annual H-60 Rodeo June 17.

The Rodeo is a competition that tests the skills of Coast Guard flight crews at Air Station Astoria. Pilots, swimmers and flight mechanics are broken up into teams and, after a question and answer session, are given a series of tasks to perform from an MH-60 helicopter.

“The Rodeo is a morale, team-building and training event that we put together annually,” said Lt. Mike Groncki, Air Station Astoria Training Officer. “Crew coordination is a big thing so crews practice that as well as basic piloting and flight mechanic skills.”

Events at the Rodeo include quickly moving an 800lb. steel ball from one end of the runway into a small concrete barrier, maneuvering a hanging trail-line into a barrel and dropping six eggs into the same barrel from 100ft. up.

“We got the steel ball from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ but it hit the ground a few times, and every time it hits the ground you get time added to your score,” said Petty Officer Third Class Adam Anderson, an Aviation Electronics Technician. “Of all the teams that went up, nobody got an egg in the barrel.”

The tasks are made more difficult by having team members swap jobs during the Rodeo.

“We’ll have the swimmer do something that, typically, the flight mechanic does,” said Groncki. “We try to cross-train that way so crews understand the jobs of other members of their team.”

The Rodeo isn’t just an entertaining diversion for the flight crews however. In addition to giving team members an appreciation for each other’s duties, the tasks they are given give them a chance to practice skills that are necessary for completing the many missions Coast Guard helicopter crews perform on a daily basis.

“It’s a chance for us to build camaraderie, have an enjoyable day and still practice the skills we use day-to-day to execute search and rescue, law enforcement and aids to navigation missions,” Groncki said.

“Most of the rodeo events focus on precision-hovering and we do a lot of that whether we’re over the water or along a cliff face,” said Lt. David Bartram, Air Station Astoria’s Assistant Operations Officer. “It also lets us practice the teamwork that is necessary when you’re dealing with a situation where there is such a small tolerance for error.”

The winning team of the 2009 H-60 Rodeo consisted of Bartram, Lt. Adam Davenport, Aviation Maintenance Technician Second Class Brian Berry, Aviation Electronics Technician Third Class Michael Vanberkom and Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Byron Cross but, unlike a normal rodeo, there’s no shiny silver belt buckle for the victors. There is, however, a 24-hour liberty pass and bragging rights to last until the next rodeo comes around.

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