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NEWS | April 28, 2010

SERE refresher course sharpens survival skills

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

When you think of pilots and the aircrew that fly with them, crawling around in the dirt with camouflage and face paint is not what initially comes to mind. However, that is exactly what a number of Charleston pilots and aircrew members were doing April 22.

This exercise was part of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape refresher course taught here at Joint Base Charleston, which aircrew members must complete every three years. This one day course, including both classroom and outdoor hands-on-training, is designed to keep aircrew members current with the skills necessary to survive in any type of hostile environment. These skills, initially taught during the extensive 19 day S-V-80 SERE course at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., need to be practiced in order to be maintained.

Thursday's activities included a three hour classroom session where aircrew members were reminded of proper evasion, recovery and planning techniques. After the quick refresher, they were given a scenario and taken out to the Naval Weapons Station's Marrington Plantation. Once there, SERE specialists briefed them on camouflage and face paint application techniques, land navigation and proper procedures for ground movement. With all their knowledge in hand, aircrew members were set loose to navigate to different rally points with the ultimate goal of arriving at a simulated rescue point. All the while, they were required to evade and use proper radio signals and movement techniques.

While many of the aircrew members were wary of this refresher training, at the end of the day, the general consensus was simply, fun.

"It was fun trying to remember the techniques they had taught us," said Senior Airman Alfonso Rogers, a loadmaster from the 15th Airlift Squadron, "We don't do this often-it gets your mind thinking."

Not only that, but this refresher course could one day be the thing that saves their lives, said 1st Lt. Kevin Kubik, a pilot from the 17th Airlift Squadron.

"No one wants to think of that worst case scenario, but if it does happen, at least I have the knowledge and confidence to survive and evade the enemy," he said.

The basis of the training is to teach the aircrew members to think on their feet and to make the wisest decision depending on the different circumstances or situations. This refresher course prevents aircrew members from becoming complacent and falling into a routine. It is a reminder they could one day be in a hostile situation and the training gives them the confidence to do their job and complete their mission to the utmost of their ability.

According to one SERE instructor, "There is a broader picture behind a lot of what we teach. The code of conduct is just that basic foundation ... what we build everything on."

Instructors for this course are very passionate about their job and have gone through extensive training to be in this position. The process of becoming a SERE specialist involves some of the most rigorous training in the military. Once selected, trainees must attend the SERE S-V-80 course, a one month indoctrination course and finally the SERE technical school. This school is a grueling six month program involving survival, evasion, resistance, escape and personal recovery training in every possible climate and terrain, and gives them the qualifications to teach their skills to any Airman.

SERE specialists dedicate their lives to preparing Airmen for the worst possible situation so they may "Return with Honor."

"Personnel recovery is so important to the Air Force and the United States ... we teach students to maintain life, maintain honor and return; if you do those three things, you've accomplished a survivor's mission," says Joint Base Charleston's SERE instructor.

SERE makes up one of five Air Force Special Operations career fields, but is the only Special Operations career field that allows women to participate. In addition, they make up part of the elite group known as the Guardian Angel Weapons system, which also includes pararescuemen and combat rescue officers. This three tiered group specializes in the preparation, protection and recovery of the men and women serving in today's Air Force.

SERE can be summed up by one instructor's quote, "If we save one life through this training, then all of it is worth it."

Because of the nature of SERE training, anonymity is important and names of the SERE instructors in this article have been withheld. For additional information on SERE specialists or their training, visit or contact the Joint Base Charleston SERE office at 843-963-7824.
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