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Survival training tests aircrew’s mettle

  • Published
  • By Airman Eric Schloeffel
  • 347th Rescue Wing public affairs
 As the sun began to steadily fall from the pastel colored sky, giving way to chilly evening breezes, six drenched aircrew members grew miserable.

Fatigue, hunger, dehydration, heat, cold and plain discontent seemed to be themes of combat survival training Tuesday at Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area. The course teaches survival techniques needed in combat and peacetime environments.

“This course gives them some perspective of what it’s like (to be a survivor),” said Tech. Sgt. Teddy Allison, 347th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist and course instructor. “If today is (tough), they’ll know the real thing is going to be much more difficult. They’ll take survivor training seriously and get as much out of it as they can.”

The two-day course, which begins in the classroom and ends in the field, is mandatory training for aircrew members every three years.

“This training becomes extremely important if something happens to them (in a crash situation),” said Senior Airman Ryan Wilkerson, SERE specialist and course instructor. “It’s one of those things you hope they’d never have to use; but if they did, it could be the difference between life and death.”

The field training began at 1:15 p.m. with a briefing about navigational tactics and how shadows can indicate directional paths. The students also reviewed appropriate checklists and ensured they were properly hydrated before heading into the field.

The students trekked for miles across the dense vegetation of Saw-Palmetto fields and pine forests to find small, orange ammunition cans. The cans were indicated on a map, and they used a compass to navigate from point-to-point to find them, said Airman Wilkerson.

“Electronics are fallible and can break,” said Airman Wilkerson. “It’s important that the students go out there with a compass and orient themselves with a map or chart to find exactly where they want to go.”

Every few minutes, Sergeant Allison stopped the class to show different survival techniques like edible insects, water sources and fire-starting techniques. They also learned evasion techniques, like avoiding large openings and how to cross roads.

The course became harder later in the day as the students broke into two-person teams and navigated through nearly waist-deep swamp and dense underbrush.

“Getting through the swamp and dense forest was a major challenge,” said Capt. Joseph Booth, 347th OSS. “If you tried to go too fast you would lose your way and get off track.”

Some students fell into the water, soaking their uniforms and gear. As the groups finally emerged out of the swamp, Sergeant Allison and Airman Wilkerson taught them how to create fires.

“You (shouldn’t) just pull wood from the ground to start a fire,” said Airman Wilkerson. “What you look for is smaller stuff or a dead standing tree, break it up and light the wood in the middle. Small is the key.”

The arrival of night brought falling temperatures and the group huddled around the fire to warm their cold, wet feet.

But despite their conditions, the Airmen still had more hours of training.

After taking a short break, the students glued mock injuries on their bodies and hid in the woods while pararescuemen from the 38th Rescue Squadron drove up in four-wheelers to find the students and treat their injuries.

At approximately 11 p.m., an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter flew into the area and transported the students to Valdosta Regional Airport. From there, an HC-130 P/N Combat King brought them back to Moody, concluding the exercise.

From the long hours of hiking in austere terrain to the wet boots and cold feet, the Airmen felt this training was a valuable lesson in the event of a tragedy, said Captain Booth.

“It’s always good to figure out where you are and the direction of your travel,” he said. “We need to know this in case something happens to us. You can learn a lot (of information) from a book, but learning from people like Sergeant Allison and actually experiencing things is a more valuable lesson.”