Teaching Air Force wilderness survival

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sean Campbell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Regardless of weather, be it in the heat of the sun or the cold of the winter, Airmen can be found training in the woods, preparing for different isolated survival situations they might face in their careers.

Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists work around the clock to train Airmen to survive and return with honor.

“We fail our goal as instructors if we don’t teach students everything we know,” said Senior Airman Carlos Sanchez, 22nd Training Squadron SERE instructor. “SERE specialists go through frequent trainings to gain knowledge and impart to others the best chance of survival possible.”

As part of the SERE survival course, students spend five days in the wilderness learning different skills and procedures for what to do in potentially dangerous survival situations. This includes signaling, building shelters and fires.

“We call it a crawl, walk, run scenario. We start by teaching them what they need to know,” said Sanchez. “Then, little by little, we interject an enemy situation with a gradually rising threat level. You still have to meet your basic needs while escaping.”

Each day, the training progresses toward students being alone with an enemy in pursuit. Their mission is to avoid the enemy, survive and make it back safely. There are multiple techniques that are taught to help with evasion, including basics like camouflage, what it means to be hidden and how to move without being found by the enemy. It is a step-by-step process and gradually teaches students all of the skills needed.

“We have to adjust accordingly in order to meet basic needs and survive,” said Sanchez. “Planning out how the day is going to go is important to meet needs, starting with getting warm in the morning, setting up shelters and preparing to build a fire. If it gets cold, you have to get warm first and then start meeting other needs.”

The process of building a fire can warm up the person as well. It is taught that the faster you work, the warmer you get. When you build a fire, you see the result of your work and you enjoy it, said Sanchez.

Before students go into the field for training, they have to pack a bag with specific gear to include a global positioning system, compass, map, shelter materials and rain poncho. They also pack equipment and tools used to signal for rescue.

“Signaling is extremely important especially from an air asset’s point of view,” said Sanchez. “Aircrews need to be able to see you. One thing that can be used is fire. We also have reflective devices we can put on the ground. If there’s no enemy, we would look for the biggest open area possible to give the helicopter a chance to land. If they can’t land, they are at least able to identify the location of the people.”

The overall SERE school objective is to prepare Airmen to be isolated, alone and able to survive for days at a time while using the skills they have learned to make it back home alive.

“This training is super important,” said 1st Lt. Timothy Turner, 23rd Flying Training Squadron UH-60 pilot and SERE student. “You hear stories about pilots and crews going down and you know it can happen to anyone.”

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