SERE: Ready For Anything
By Airman 1st Class Jeremy D. Wolff, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 23, 2017
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Survival, evasion, resistance and escape training has been around since the end of World War II, preparing airmen for any situation life can throw at them.
Today, SERE Specialists Staff Sgt. Cassidy Steffen and Tech. Sgt. Isaac Denton ensure that Mountain Home pilots are fit to fight when things get dicey.
“We started back in World War II just to instill a survival mindset into our aircrew because they were at high risk of becoming isolated, not just downrange or in a theatre of war, but also flying stateside covering cross country flight,” said Steffen. “Our job is to bolster their confidence so they can focus on doing their job. They should be thinking,’ if I crash, I’m just going to survive out there because: I’ve done it already, I’ve experienced it, I can press on and overcome it.’”
Becoming a SERE specialist is no easy road. After passing numerous physical and mental screenings and attending basic training, SERE hopefuls must complete six months of training at the Air Force’s primary training center, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
“The SERE school will teach you all the skills you need, but if you’re not tough enough to deal with the cold, being hungry, blisters on your hands and sleepless nights you’re not going to make it,” Steffen said. “You’re going to quit. It all goes back to being tough physically and mentally, but mostly mentally.”
Only 15 percent graduate their six month technical training course and earn the title of specialist. Even after graduation the training isn’t over, as they have 45 weeks of intensive on the job training.
“It’s a long process to make sure that the SERE specialists we’re producing are of the right character, have the right skill sets and the right mindset to interact with aircrew and actually teach them the objectives that are required of them,” Steffen said.
The most common SERE training conducted at Mountain Home includes combat survival training, water survival training and emergency parachute training.
Mountain Home offers a unique training setting because its terrain is very similar to what pilots can expect to see in a deployed environment. But that’s not the only reason SERE at MHAFB is known across the Air Force.
“The other thing is we implemented the seat kit weapon which was originated here," Denton said. "it’s fun to find new ways of using the seat kit weapon to create new ideas about training air crew for the worst case scenario.”
Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot, crashed in Syria in 2014 and was quickly captured by ISIS forces which later broadcast his brutal murder for all the world to see. This led to the determination that pilots needed a better weapon to keep enemies at bay until they could be rescued, but could also fit in the small seat kit bag.
The seat kit which stores survival gear like water, a knife and other essentials is already small and packed to the brim. This made finding a weapon that fit their criteria an even more difficult task.
Denton and fellow SERE specialist Tech. Sgt. Paul Daggett were tasked with improving the kit. Daggett took the reins and with hard work and ingenuity he found a solution.
“The weapon we ended up using was a GAU-5 because we already had it in the Air Force armory. We took what we had in the inventory, cut the barrel off at the iron sights and disassembled the upper and lower and put it in the seat kit, and it barely fit,” Denton said. “Now you have a weapon with a better range that can keep him alive 3-4 hours for any kind of recovery to get in. So all the F-15s are flying with those in theatre and we’ve had contact from Germans, Australians, the Brits and they’re trying to copy our program that we initially started right here, so that’s pretty cool.”
From finding innovations that reach beyond the Air Force to making sure pilots are prepared to survive any scenario, the SERE specialists at Mountain Home Air Force Base impact operations more than many realize. They are proud to do it.
“What we’re doing is basically teaching people to stay alive, and I always thought that was a pretty admirable job,” Denton said.