JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, VA. – Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape specialists are experts on how to survive in the most remote and hostile environments in the world.
Along with teaching water survival courses, SERE specialists at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, train aircrew personnel on an array of skills from making a basic shelter to escaping an active pursuant.
“This training helps our personnel at high risk of isolation increase their odds of survival in the case of an isolating event,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stephen Drakes, 192nd Operations Support Squadron, Virginia Air National Guard SERE non-commissioned officer in charge.
This specific training is given to pilots and aircrew personnel who may be flying over hostile territory.
The beginning part of the training starts with classroom training and progresses to hands-on, in the field skills using everything that would be in their survival vest and inside their seat when they fly in an aircraft.
“They practice using flares, which are one of the signaling devices they would have available and can be used in all facets of personnel recovery; in the ocean, desert, Arctic, day or night,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Bender, 1st Operation Support Squadron, SERE operations non-commissioned officer in charge. “These work especially well for helicopters or any close support that may be flying, so they can land or do a hoist rescue.”
Participants use survival radios that are the actual communication network they would have in the event of an isolating situation.
The survival radios work by connecting to a satellite and then sending signals to a base station where personnel type messages and instructions back to the isolated individuals.
“It gives them confidence that the system works,” Drakes said. “It’s also a good opportunity for them to refresh their muscle memory while using the radios and equipment.”
Drakes and Bender explained that because of time constraints and the nature of the training, some situations that isolated personnel could encounter are not able to be practiced, but they are covered beforehand.
“We talk a lot about evasion and how to maintain their basic needs during the phases of an evasion,” Drakes said. “We practice evasion movements, camouflaging, taking accountability of what you have on your person and building a shelter or hideout to rest, drink water, get on the radio and meet other needs.”
After participants demonstrate that they understand how to work the communication and signaling devices, they are dropped off in a simulated hostile environment to practice the evasion skills they have learned.
“Volunteers simulate hostile aggressors who search for the pilots or other participants, to create a realistic training environment,” Drakes said. “A lot of moving pieces go into a training like this.”
While evading hostile forces and making contact with friendly forces, the participants are required to locate a cache site and find shelter in a location directed by messages received.
“Because of the requirements here, we are able to invest more time on the actual scenario, requiring them to do more tasks by going through the woods and urban areas,” Bender said. “They are really able to focus on using the tools they would have in that sort of environment.”
This training is imperative for personnel at high risk of isolation, so they can return safely from any type of survival situation. It’s also a requirement for pilots to be combat mission ready.
Through preparation, planning and training, the SERE specialists here at Langley are able to continue the mission of the base and the Air Force by ensuring aircrew personnel are prepared and trained to survive in the event that a mission doesn’t go as planned.