Montana Army National Guard conducts open water training at Canyon Ferry Lake

Montana Army National Guard conducts open water training
Posted at 4:23 PM, Aug 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-07 18:31:12-04

HELENA — Boaters on Canyon Ferry Lake likely saw a good bit of Montana Army National Guard activity near Silo's Campground Saturday, where helicopters were pulling people out of the water as a training exercise.

The exercise ran with supervision by both Broadwater and Gallatin country search and rescue teams and was created as a way for soldiers to be prepared to medically evacuate someone with a helicopter while in open water, whether in Montana or somewhere else in the country.

"The motto of, 'always ready, always there,' it rings proud and true with Charlie Company. Because of this real training that we're doing, we're able to answer the call wherever our community needs us," said Capt. Chris Weber.

Despite being in a landlocked state, staff Sgt. Jake Balliew noted they want to do this type of training so in the event somewhere else need's help, they're ready for whatever is thrown their way.

"We aren't affected by these massive, you know, like tidal storms, you know, these tropical storms that come in and just ravaged Florida and Texas and the East Coast and all that," said Balliew. "The beauty of being a landlocked state is we can train with such a, you know, a large body of water replicate an open water scenario."

The Montana Army National Guard replicated an open water scenario by having search and rescue experts shuttle volunteers in life jackets approximately half a mile offshore on the lake with a safety instructor in the water with them. From there, soldiers in helicopters held steady over the volunteers in the water and picked them up with a hoist to get them out of the water.

Balliew noted even though it may not be the Atlantic Ocean, with such a large body of water to contend with in Canyon Ferry Lake the exercise felt extremely realistic.

"It's the exact scenario as if we are responding to an open water call. A boat has capsized off the coast of Florida, whatever the case may be. So when once we get out there and we're over the water, there's almost zero difference,” said Balliew.

Command Sgt. Major Thomas Mooney was one of the volunteers that was in a life jacket in the water and noted that it was actually a fun exercise to be a part of.

"It's like a carnival ride, right? It's with your best friend because he's hugging you. So he's got his arms around you. You're in the hoist and all of a sudden you're just going up and pretty soon you're getting inside the helicopter. They're dragging inside the helicopter and disconnecting you. So, it's a big green carnival ride," said Mooney with a smile.