MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
Imagine the most miserable, cold weather conditions Mother Nature could throw at you. Low temperatures, rain, sleet, hail, snow and a wind chill that leaves the temperature sitting right around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Those conditions created a beautifully miserable atmosphere for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape winter survival training course on Snowbank Mountain.
“Optimum conditions for hypothermia (which is not what you want) is going to be between 30 to 40 degrees and wet whether its falling from the sky or sitting on the ground, and we had both,” said Staff Sergeant David Chorpenning, 366th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist. “It was challenging, but the more challenging it is, the better learning outcome for the students.”
Two groups comprised of Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and New River attended the course, learning survival tactics to keep them alive in the cold with limited resources.
“They taught us how to build fires, make shelters (and) we had to adapt to sleeping in our snow caves and to the climate,” said Lance Corporal Trevor Poulin, MCAS New River aviation operation specialist. “We took a lot of knowledge in because we don’t know where we’ll fight next, but we always have to be ready when America is not.”
The experience was not without its struggles when the students employed their newly learned skills on their own.
“The big thing is it’s experiential,” said Chorpenning. “A lot of guys dug snow caves, one person’s wasn’t deep enough and he got rained on. Another slept head first in his snow cave and was claustrophobic the whole night, so you learn things through your experience.”
Physical obstacles played a role throughout the journey, but there is much more to surviving unforgiving territory.
“The mental thing was probably the most challenging because you’ve got to take your priorities in first,” said Poulin. “What will kill me first, how do I make shelter and how do I survive.”
While the entire process is challenging, both the instructors and students shared a sense of experience and success.
“The Marines I talked to were very pleased with the experience and we learned a lot from it,” said Poulin. “I’m definitely going to recommend it become more attainable to other Marines because not only were they professional, but they were patient enough to teach each of us.”
“The students were phenomenal, they were a lot of fun to work with,” said Chorpenning. “I’d like to work with other agencies if I could. I know there’s a lot of search and rescue teams out in the area, I’d love to do training with them. If the Marines want to come back they’re more than welcome again.”
Mountain Home SERE welcomes any branch or agency with a desire to learn and regardless Chorpenning will have a good time.
“I’ve been watching a lot of power point instruction for the last two and a half years, so getting out there was good,” said Chorpenning. “Just getting to work on the survival stuff, building fires, getting to swing my ax. Any day swinging an ax is a good day.”