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Confidence gained through SERE combat survival training

Airman 1st Class Zachary Mikolajczyk, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, points at a location on a field training area map June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. Mikolajczyk showed the S-V-80-A combat survival students how to find their location on a map. The students learned a variety of skills to include fire crafts, water procurement, land navigation and shelter building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

Airman 1st Class Zachary Mikolajczyk, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, points at a location on a field training area map June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. Mikolajczyk showed the S-V-80-A combat survival students how to find their location on a map. The students learned a variety of skills to include fire crafts, water procurement, land navigation and shelter building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

Senior Airman Anthony Fiore, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, demonstrates how to ‘shoot’ with a lensatic compass June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. To ‘shoot’ a lensatic compass is to get the users bearing from a specific location in the distance. Students learned how to properly ‘shoot’ a lensatic compass as part of their land navigation training during the S-V-80-A combat survival training course. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

Senior Airman Anthony Fiore, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, demonstrates how to ‘shoot’ with a lensatic compass June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. To ‘shoot’ a lensatic compass is to get the users bearing from a specific location in the distance. Students learned how to properly ‘shoot’ a lensatic compass as part of their land navigation training during the S-V-80-A combat survival training course. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

S-V-80-A combat survival students create a six-point checklist using their compass and field area training maps June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. A six-point checklist assisted the students in keeping on track to locate their next checkpoint during their land navigation training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

S-V-80-A combat survival students create a six-point checklist using their compass and field area training maps June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. A six-point checklist assisted the students in keeping on track to locate their next checkpoint during their land navigation training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

S-V-80-A combat survival students gather water from a stream June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. To prevent water-borne illness from occurring, the students learned to add iodine tablets or bleach to purify the gathered water. The students also learned that leaving a bottle of water in the sun will result in water purification by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

S-V-80-A combat survival students gather water from a stream June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. To prevent water-borne illness from occurring, the students learned to add iodine tablets or bleach to purify the gathered water. The students also learned that leaving a bottle of water in the sun will result in water purification by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

Airman 1st Class Zachary Mikolajczyk, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, demonstrates how to properly collect water from a stream with a canteen cup, June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. Students learned that water procurement is an important asset to survival: the human body can only sustain life for three days without any water. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

Airman 1st Class Zachary Mikolajczyk, 22nd Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, demonstrates how to properly collect water from a stream with a canteen cup, June 13, 2015, in the Colville National Forest, Wash. Students learned that water procurement is an important asset to survival: the human body can only sustain life for three days without any water. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Early on a Saturday morning, students load onto a bus headed to a destination unknown to most of them. The bus gears turn and wheels screech as it creeps toward its course. A destination more than 70 miles from base, deep in the Colville and Kaniksu National Forests.

Upon arriving at the national forest, the students exit the bus in teams, otherwise known as elements, and collect their all-purpose lightweight individual carrying packs, better known as the A.L.I.C.E. ruck sack. With their rucks, which are no longer lightweight after being packed with supplies and minimal food, they rendezvous with their Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape instructor to embark on a learning mission in combat survival.

Over the next six days of their stay, the S-V-80-A combat survival training students will receive hands-on training in how to survive and evade during an isolating event.

"They learn most of S-V-80 in the classroom," said Airman 1st Class Zachary Mikolajczyk, 22nd Training Squadron SERE specialist. "But this is the hands on portion of the course where they apply what they've learned."

As with some Air Education and Training Command courses, the unknown lurks around the corner for the combat survival students. Some enjoy the experience, others do not.

"There are plenty of people I work with who have been through the course and told me how great of an experience it is to go through it," said Airman 1st Class Marc Chapdelaine, an airman with the 15th Operations Support Squadron at Joint-Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. "At first I wasn't sure how well I was going to do."

He said initially he was overwhelmed trying to learn all the different knots, how to properly set up camp and that working with little amounts of food to eat didn't help.

"I felt like I wasn't going to be able to do it," said Chapdelaine, who didn't know what to expect from the course and who hadn't had much prior experience with the outdoors. "Trying to survive on little amounts of food to get through the day was brutal."

"We're not here trying to stress out the students," said Mikolajczyk. "We do limit their food and give them assignments, but this is more of a confidence boosting course than anything."

The techniques and principles taught include: food procurement and preparation, shelter construction, day and night navigation techniques, evasion travel and camouflage techniques, ground-to-air signals and aircraft vectoring procedures.

"The principles learned here can be applied globally," said Mikolajczyk. "No matter what situations they find themselves in, they're prepared."

Chapdelaine went on to say he feels we as a society are too dependent on technology when we are in need of help and don't know how to fend for ourselves.

"I'm not an expert now that I've gone through the course," Chapdelaine said. "But, now I have the confidence so I won't panic and completely stress out if I was placed in a predicament."

Chapdelaine also said he is more confident knowing how to act and what to do in a stressful situation whereas before he wouldn't know where to begin if he was put into an isolating situation.

The course consists of 19 training days and is held 49 weeks out of each year. The 19-day course consists of classroom and hands-on training in combat survival and resistance training techniques.

Aircrew members and other are required to attend combat survival training to give them the skill sets necessary to survive and evade capture in the event they find themselves behind enemy lines so they can return with honor.

[This is part one of a six part series covering the men, women and mission of the 336th Training Group]