CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM – To say that the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Specialists at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., are mere instructors doesn't begin to give them sufficient kudos for the skills, tactics and mission-essential tools they instill in aircrew members in the 27th Special Operations Wing.
"It takes awesomeness and amazing genes to do what we do," said Tech. Sgt. Marc Richard, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron SERE Specialist, jokingly. "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 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 weapon system, which also includes pararescue.
Aircrew members undergo initial SERE training but must take continuation survival training every few years to maintain their mission-ready status. Troops never know what types of situations they will encounter down-range, the SERE refresher training they receive at their home station prepares them for a multitude of scenarios.
"Our guys at Cannon have a different mindset and are very involved in the SERE world," said Richard. "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 must grasp during training comes from unfamiliarity. Most students have never been in the situations they are learning about, and concepts like resisting captivity are very foreign.
SERE specialists spent a week teaching aircrew members fulfilling their re-training qualifications. The first day kicked off 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, 27 SOSS SERE Specialist. "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, which they were suspended from 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," said Murphy. "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.
Despite cold water temperatures and soaked flight suits, students actively engaged their instructors, who were right there in the water with them.
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.
Day four took students out to Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., for a full day of field training under the sun with simulated OPFOR. 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. The scenario concluded with students being rescued by a Special Operations Forces team and flown home on an M-28 aircraft which performed a late-night pickup off a dirt runway.
Instructors and OPFOR personnel 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 large amount of pride toward the work they do. It's more than a job to them; it's a way of life.
"We need them to understand that they are the weakest link in the entire recovery process," said Richard. "We are training these aircrew members to be versatile and how to adapt to any situation that could be thrown at them anytime, anywhere."