By Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal
27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) — To say that the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists here are mere instructors doesn’t begin to give them sufficient kudos for the skills, tactics and mission-essential tools they instill in aircrew members of the 27th Special Operations Wing.
“It takes awesomeness and amazing genes to do what we do,” said Tech. Sgt. Marc Richard, a SERE specialist with the 27th Special Operations Support Squadron. “In all honesty, we are giving all high-risk personnel the critical skills they will need in the event that something does go wrong in austere environments. If they are able to take what is learned and apply it (in the) real world, it could be the factor that determines how they come out of adverse situations.”
SERE is part of Air Combat Command’s Guardian Angel weapons system, which also includes pararescuemen and combat rescue officers.
Aircrew members undergo initial SERE training but must take continuation survival training every few years to maintain their mission-ready status. Airmen never know what types of situations they may encounter down range. The SERE refresher training they receive at their home station prepares them for a multitude of scenarios.
“Our guys at Cannon (AFB) have a different mindset and are very involved in the SERE world,” Richard said. “Our mission comes with certain inherent risks and that motivates our troops to want to absorb more of what we are teaching.”
According to the instructors, one of the more difficult aspects aircrew members encounter during training is unfamiliarity. Most students have never been in the situations they are learning about, and concepts like resisting captivity are very foreign to them.
SERE specialists spent a week teaching aircrew members who were fulfilling their retraining qualifications. The instructors kicked off the first day with a refresher on emergency parachute training.
“What we hope students take away from this are the proper procedures for evacuating from an aircraft in motion, while ensuring their own safety and that of their fellow crew members,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Murphy, a SERE specialist with the 27th SOSS. “In real world situations, the training will ‘click’, and the aircrew member will act on instinct if they absorbed what was taught.”
After a classroom lecture, students stepped outdoors to a jungle-gym-like apparatus, from which they were suspended to actively practice emergency parachute procedures.
The second day of training took another group to Ute Lake, N.M., for a water survival training course. Students spent the day above and in the choppy lake, learning how to survive in an open-ocean environment.
“There is always the possibility of ditching or bailing out of an aircraft and having to land in the water,” Murphy said. “Dangers we stress are hypothermia in cold water, losing crew members, and variant tides along with raft-living procedures. What we are teaching them here at the lake is to not panic and avoid drowning.”
Aircrew members learned how to safely disconnect from a parachute canopy in water, what to do if they were to become entangled in their canopy in water, and how to use life rafts.
Students could blow off steam during a hand-to-hand combat training course the following day. Students practiced the maneuvers demonstrated on each other using safety gear to avoid real injuries.
Students visited Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., on day four for a full day of field training under the sun with simulated opposing forces. Aircrew members learned how to orient their location on maps, navigate unfamiliar terrain, safeguard themselves against the elements, use signaling devices for rescue and evade the enemy.
At the end of the scenario a special operations forces team rescued the students and flew them home on an M-28 Skytruck that performed a late-night pickup off a dirt runway.
Instructors and OPFOR members patrolled in rotations, monitoring radio communications and simulating aggression toward the students, as they navigated their way across the range, in the hope of making it to their final destination point for pick up.
The SERE specialists have a great sense of pride about the work they do. It’s more than a job to them; it’s a way of life.
“We need the students to understand that they are the weakest link in the entire recovery process,” Richard said. “We are training these aircrew members to be versatile and know how to adapt to any situation that could be thrown at them anytime, anywhere.”