SERE trains rescued, rescuer

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jessica H. Smith
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Airmen at Moody Air Force Base may find themselves in all types of scenarios due to the often unexpected missions and duties that come with being part of an Attack, Rescue, Prevail wing.

Some members may even be deemed as high-risk individuals whether it be a loadmaster, flight surgeon, or anything in between, requiring them to receive specific training to ensure they’re prepared for any circumstances – Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape instructors with the 347th Operations Support Squadron make sure of just that.

After receiving initial SERE training, individuals identified as high-risk of isolation personnel are required to complete SERE Combat Survival Training every 36 months as a refresher course consisting of a classroom and field portion.

“This training is their insurance plan … If they have the worst day of their life, this is the training they fall back on to get them home to see their family, to go to another day of work,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Matyas, 347th OSS SERE flight chief. “That’s what this is built around – the off chance they have a really, really, bad day at work.”

In the classroom, students revisit skills learned in the initial training that may not be used in their day-to-day work environment such as setting frequencies or GPS data and coordinates and other equipment details.

The classroom portion also allows students to gain a clearer understanding of the objectives to be met in the field, whether it be working through evasion measures or maneuvering and signaling in low-light conditions.

“We go through an academic portion in order to make sure those intricacies get brushed up on and then from there we take them out and do an exercise in order to give them a chance to actually use some of that in practical application,” Matyas said. “Because it’s one thing to talk about it, it’s a whole different thing to actually go out and execute.”

The field training aims to provide students with the hands-on skills needed to survive being in an unfriendly or high-risk environment while potentially being hunted by an enemy force.

Once the field portion begins, instructors have two new roles – ensuring safety and acting as opposing forces.

The primary focus of the instructor running safety is to keep tabs on each group’s tracker, make sure individuals are moving in the right direction and staying on course, monitoring radios, sending grids and testing the student’s communication skills. Those acting as opposing forces provide obstacles to the evasion process and challenge students to maneuver more covertly.

“What we’re looking to do is to give them an opportunity to evade an opposing force and give them barriers in order to challenge them in different facets of their ability to hide from the enemy, whether that be vehicles, dogs, personnel, ground teams, whatever we feel would be best suited for those individuals,” Matyas explained. “The end objective is for them to be able to maneuver without being captured in a potentially hostile environment.”

While the training is for any individual designated as high-risk, most students who find themselves in need of CST are aircrew – at Moody AFB many of these aircrew members belong to a rescue group or squadron meaning they may find themselves at either end of the spectrum – the rescuer or the rescued.

“Being part of the Combat Search and Rescue team here on the HC-130s, there’s always the chance to deploy, and with deploying there’s always the possibility of something bad happening,” said Tech. Sgt. Mike Butler, 71st Rescue Squadron loadmaster, “So it’s good to know how to make it back to friendly forces.

"I think it also helps with knowing how a person who’s lost or isolated is going to act," Butler continued. "Being able to have the mindset to put yourself in their shoes and have that training refreshed in your mind to be ready to go.”

Although the training is physically and mentally taxing, Butler found significance in the basic skills and recognizing what each individual brings to the team.

“The most rewarding part of the training is getting back to the basics of navigating – using a compass, using a map, getting the right GPS coordinates from our rescue counterparts and making it from one point to another using those skills,” he said.

Applying classroom skills to the field portion allowed Butler and fellow students to identify their strengths and weaknesses on the fly.

“One person might be a little better at operating a GPS, one person might be better at reading a map, and one person might be better at sneaking through the woods to see what the vantage points are or if the simulated enemy is around,” he explained.

While each student may find different value from the refresher course, ultimately, the instructors hope to build confidence and competence for every individual – recognizing this training may be the difference between life and death.