Survival training

About this feature:

The features and photos here appeared in the June 30 issue of the Air Pulse, and provide an insight into an unusual part of aircrew training -- survival and evasion techniques following a crash.

To get the photos and experience necessary to write the article, I went through the class with a group of 14 aircrew members. Our training started around 1 p.m., and we finally rolled back into base a bit after 4 a.m. the next morning.

This was the first of two articles on the life support flight. The second is about the water survival course they offer, which I also immersed in.



Evasive action
For Offutt flyers, a chance to hone survival and evasion skills

By 1st Lt. John Severns
55th Wing Public Affairs

Not all training for Offutt aircrew members takes place on an aircraft. Or, for that matter, anywhere near one.

 For 14 Offutt flyers last week, training didn’t take place in a simulator or classroom either. Instead, they packed their bags with energy bars and insect repellant, and left with Capt. Rhett Murphy, 55th Operations Squadron aircrew protection flight commander, and several Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape trainers for a night of hands-on experience in a remote section of the Nebraska prairie.

 “This is refresher training for our flyers,” said Captain Murphy, “Every three years they need a class like this that goes over the basics of survival and evasion in a practical, active setting that simulates the sort of conditions they might experience in a real-world situation.”

 The situation Captain Murphy was describing is an emergency that put an aircraft and its crew on the ground in hostile territory. From the instant the aircraft stops moving until they are picked up by friendly search and rescue forces, their lives depend on their ability to survive using the materials at hand while evading capture by the enemy.

 “We used to do this training in the woods, but we found that forested areas aren’t a good way to simulate the sort of cover and environment our folks can expect if they find themselves on the ground in the areas we operate in,” the captain said. “So we started training out here instead.”

 “Here” turned out to be an Army NationalGuard training range located about 45 minutes west of Offutt. Originally an Atlas missile launch facility, it was decommissioned in the 1960s and is used today by the National Guard for convoy training. Consisting mostly of fields and open areas, it’s a much closer approximation to the landscape of countries like Iraq, Captain Murphy said.

 Hands-on training

 For students in the combat survival class, the outdoor session didn’t start until 5 p.m. when they stepped off the bus at the training range.

 Before they could start evading capture, the Airmen needed a few quick refresher training sessions on safety, rules of engagement, operating equipment such as a radio, GPS and night-vision goggles, and a lesson on orienteering using a map and compass.

 The scenario was very simple; Airmen would be divided into teams of three or four, escorted to an initial location with adequate cover, then left to fend for themselves. Then, in absolute darkness and with only scant cover, they would have to travel over a mile while avoiding the teams of aggressors searching for them using trucks, all-terrain vehicles and night-vision goggles. By the time night ended, they would have to use the radios to signal for help, relay their current location and receive coordinates for a pick-up point.

 The goal, according to Master Sgt. Tim Kemper, SERE superintendent, wasn’t for the teams to move quickly to their pick-up point. Rather, he said, teams were encouraged to move at whatever speed they felt was safe while evading capture.

 To initiate their own rescue, teams were required to make contact with friendly forces via the portable radios they carried with them. After a series of communications, teams were given a set of coordinates and instructed to rendezvous with their rescuers at that location by a certain time.

 “The hardest part was trying to stay concealed while moving across what were essentially empty fields,” said Capt. John Campbell, one of the class members. “Even in complete darkness, someone with night-vision goggles could have seen us if we weren’t careful.”

 Just having the pick-up location’s coordinates wasn’t enough. Team members had to be able to locate themselves on a map, locate the pick-up point, then plot a course between the two using cover while avoiding roads, wetlands, fences and other obstacles.

  Teams used their radios every 90 minutes to check back in with their rescuers, answering questions about their status and giving updates on their location.

 “We didn’t realize how slowly we were moving at first,” Captain Campbell said. “But after almost three hours we checked our location and realized we still had most of a mile to go.”

Once teams reached the pick-up point they were met by their rescuers, handcuffed if they responded incorrectly to certain questions, and escorted back to base.

 “Evading our aggressors isn’t that hard if you follow your training and do what you’re supposed to do,” Sergeant Kemper said. “The aircrew has a lot of advantages; they can move through darkness, they have GPS, and they have a night-vision monocle. Those are some pretty powerful tools.”

 In the end, those tools turned out to be enough. All four teams were able to make it to the pick-up point for extraction without being discovered by the aggressors, just a few hours before dawn lit the eastern sky.