August 3, 2015, DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS) — The survival, evasion, resistance and escape motto is very simple, but grave, “Return with Honor.”
It’s a motto that SERE specialists at Dover Air Force Base instill in aircrews, giving them the confidence they need to embark on any mission across the world. Dover AFB Airmen recently set out to hone their survival skills in combat survival training at Blackbird State Forest and in water survival training in the Delaware Bay.
There are only two SERE specialists assigned to the 436th Operations Support Squadron, but they are responsible for providing survival training to more than 1,000 aircrew members, including aircrews from the Air National Guard and Reserves from neighboring states.
“I like to think of SERE training as the insurance for the aircrew,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Ellerd, the 436th OSS SERE Operations NCO in charge. “They spend hundreds of hours training for aircraft emergencies, but when it comes down to being isolated in a remote location, hungry, tired and with minimal gear, they have to know how to deal with those situations and take care of themselves and return home with honor.”
The first day of the aircrew’s training consisted of combat survival in the Blackbird State Forest. The crew was taken hostage by enemy combatants, and at their first chance, they made their escape through the woods and split into four- and five-man teams. The teams spent several hours navigating woodland and marsh terrain and marsh with limited supplies and gear. They relied heavily on tactics, techniques and procedures to elude enemy forces and navigate their way to a rendezvous point to be rescued by friendly forces.
During the training, Senior Airman Leo Avila, a 709th Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy engineer, was responsible for navigating his team to various checkpoints using older but proven methods and technologies.
“The training today was definitely a boost of confidence for me,” Avila said. “Nowadays, you rely so much on things like GPS, so it was nice to go back to a compass and a map and go back to the basics of navigation.”
The diverse airlift missions supported by Dover AFB send its aircrews all over the world. Flying over large bodies of cold, violent water is a normal undertaking for these Airmen.
The second day of training consisted of working with the Coast Guard. The Airmen were rescued by helicopter from the waters of the Delaware Bay. Coast Guard crews hoisted the students in emergency rafts from the bay and into helicopters, giving them the experience of actually being rescued and lifted into a helicopter.
Senior Master Sgt. Lori Tascione, the 436th Operations Group standardization and evaluations superintendent, said water survival training is something she thinks is very important for aircrews to learn.
“With water, it’s going to be the initial shock factor,” Tascione said. “Most of the locations we go over have ice cold water. So you have to know how to protect yourself from (exposure); know how to fish and know how to survive on the water.”
Tascione added that surviving a water emergency takes a lot more than just being physically in shape.
“You have to be physically fit of course, but you have to be mentally ready to survive as well,” she said. “I tell my crew every time that we go out, ‘mama bear is going home to her cubs,’ so that’s my reason to stay alive.”
Ellerd said that training with the Coast Guard can aid in the mental aspects of being rescued out at sea.
“We work hand in hand with other services to provide somewhat of a joint operation and a cohesive training environment for the aircrew,” Ellerd said. “The experience(s) they bring away from this are the rigors of the environment, how to push through and how to survive. That’s really the difference often between someone who survives and someone who doesn’t, that mental fortitude.”
Ellerd, who has taught survival skills for multiple years at Dover AFB, said he hopes his students never have to use those skills, but the ones who do, he believes are ready for the challenge.
“Some of my most personal experiences I’ve had in my career are when we’ve had actual aircrews, who have been survivors, come back and talk to us and tell us about their experiences and how important it was for them to know how to survive, ” Ellerd said. “That’s what really drives it home, to see somebody come back and who did survive and had that will to take care of themselves.”