Trenton's crew Features Reserve SAR Swimmers
By Matthew Montgomery, Military Sealift Command Europe
The MILDET helps foster theater security cooperation, preserve freedom of the seas, and promote peace and regional stability. Trenton is currently assigned to Commander Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-CNA), and operates in the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet Area of Operations (AOO).
Trenton’s adaptive force package includes two seven-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) with corresponding boat crews. Each crew has two boatswain mates, two engineman and a search-and-rescue (SAR) swimmer. They are AFP mission enablers when responding to emergencies, such as casualty evacuations (CASEVAC), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) waterborne recovery, as well as migrant and other maritime SAR operations. Additionally, the AFP boat crews are prepared to support other task force element missions and conduct foreign military-to-military training exercises and engagements in the AOO.
So far Trenton’s boat crews have conducted multiple at-sea and in-port training and operational evolutions, accumulating over 50 hours of SAR and CASEVAC drills and UAV standby recoveries. They have also conducted medical evacuation litter retrieval exercises with Trenton’s MSC civilian mariner crew, referred to as CIVMARs.
Currently, the two MILDET boat crews are made up of two active duty and six reserve component Sailors. The two SAR swimmers are both reserve Sailors from the Navy Reserve Littoral Combat Ship units, one of which was instrumental in the development of the reserve SAR swimmer program.
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Gregorio Bianchini has been in the Navy Reserves for 14 years and was one of the key driving forces behind the creation of the reserve SAR swimmer program. He is from North Plainfield, New Jersey, and works as a pilot and student in his civilian career.
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Jared Aellis has been in the Navy Reserves for three years. He is actively pursuing and plans to apply for the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) program upon returning from his current mobilization. SWCC are responsible for operating a variety of small boats in direct support of Navy SEALs and other special operations forces.
Aellis is the first non prior-service Sailor to ever qualify as a SAR swimmer. He lives in Freehold, New Jersey, and is currently a student at Brookdale College pursuing a degree in psychology.
During their deployment aboard Trenton, Bianchini and Aellis have already completed over 25 hours of SAR sustainment training and 11 RHIB operations. Both reserve Sailors are current on all SAR required training including six at-sea rescue litter evolutions. They have also conducted 20 hours of SAR classroom training with presentations provided by Afloat Training Group.
“The reserve swimmers have been a perfect example of a plug and play scenario for reserve Individual Augmentee mobilizations,” said Lt. j.g. Randy Vincent, MILDET Force Protection Officer who also serves as the deck officer during small boat operations.
In addition to their duties as SAR swimmers, Bianchini and Aellis also work within their rates and fulfill the mission with unrivaled work ethic.
“As small boat operations continue to improve and evolve, Bianchini and Aellis are instrumental in the growth of the overall mission capability and continue to forge the path for future reserve SAR swimmers to be deployed to other T-EPF AFP,” said Cdr. Dan Mirelez, MILDET officer-in-charge. “The work of these Sailors while aboard Trenton has not only improved the success of the Reserve SAR swimmer program, but their ability to work in-rate has led to significant improvements to the associate equipment and maintenance requirements as well.”
Together, they helped improve the Maintenance Material Management Schedule, known as the 3M SKED program, for the boats and successfully put together a parts requirement list which resulted in 100% of the required shipboard allowance being ordered. This contributed directly to ensuring proper boat maintenance. They also used their SAR swimmer expertise to improve the SAR required equipment aboard Trenton, and their efforts have directly led to improvement in future planning for U.S. 6th Fleet and MSC in regards to the T-EPF AFP concept of operations.
In October 2017, both Aellis and Bianchini assisted MSC with a five-day Fast Rescue Boat Driver Training course for the ship’s CIVMAR crew. They participated in the course as SAR swimmers and spent time in the water allowing the boat crews to learn, practice and certify in SAR swimmer insertion and retrieval.
“Having the MILDET Reserve SAR swimmers aboard allowed MSC to complete and certify this course and develop a plan for the integration of MILDET SAR swimmers as part of the ship’s Fast Rescue Boat team,” said Andy Peretti, Trenton chief mate. “This was previously exclusive to the CIVMAR crew.”
Bianchini is also certified as a second-class swim tester and spent four hours in a local Rijeka, Croatia, city pool conducting second class swim qualification for the MILDET crew. This allowed three members to obtain their second-class swim qualification and enhance the MILDET’s mission readiness. Aellis assisted a safety swimmer in the pool, thus assuring a safe training evolution.