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SERE: ensuring the worst is met with success

  • Published
  • By Airman Donald C. Knechtel
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
While navigating the skies, pilots can experience any number of challenges, especially in a combat environment.

One critical error or malfunction could leave military aviators with nothing but their will to survive. Relying on their Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training will make the difference in life or death.

"In the event that the aircrew needs our training, we present them with the skills necessary to return with honor," said Staff Sgt. Dustin Jespersen, 28th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist. "You can make dangerous mistakes in training; if you do it in the actual event it could potentially threaten your life."

In order to fly, pilots, weapons systems officers and supporting aircrew must complete annual SERE refresher training. Keeping their minds sharp and being well prepared for various emergency situations is essential for B-1 bomber aviators.

"Our aircrews carry out missions throughout the world against our nation's enemies," said Col. John Martin, 28th Operations Group commander. "It is my job to guarantee the 28th [Bomb Wing] B-1 crews have the critical skills necessary to survive isolation behind enemy lines; SERE training provides techniques that give aircrew the ability to survive in any environment, evade an enemy's progression to their location, resist questioning if captured, as well as escape captivity."

Martin added these techniques ensure aircrew can maintain life, maintain honor, and return.

The real world application of these skills was put to use by a B-1 crew over 14 years ago.

On Dec. 12, 2001, around 9:30 p.m., a B-1 bomber en route to Diego Garcia crashed into the Indian Ocean. The crew was running out of options from the sheer amount of malfunctions they were experiencing, ultimately leading to an unresponsive aircraft.

They glided the jet down to an altitude of about 15,000 feet before they were driven to eject into the dangerous waters below.

It was a very rare occurrence as this was the first B-1 to go down since the start of the war in 2001 and the first to crash in a combat mission since 1987.

But, because of their training, the crew was prepared and ready. They established themselves on deployable rafts and endured the conditions for nearly two hours before rescue arrived in the form of the USS Russell.

Jespersen described the training this aircrew and others go through, such as swim stroke techniques and training for the event that the parachute canopy falls over the member so they can get out unharmed. Aviators also learn how to establish themselves in a life raft and prioritize their needs to survive until rescue forces arrive.

"In the event that it's a high wind day [on water], we also practice drags," Jespersen added. "We go over procedures to keep their faces out of the water so they're not ingesting any and how to release from the canopy so they are no longer being dragged."

But perhaps the most vital thing aircrews need to remember is to keep calm.

"Remaining calm can apply to almost every aspect of survival training and it's going to make it a lot easier," Jespersen said. "Especially when you parachute, the moment you tense up, your body becomes rigid and it's not conducive to landing safely."

The vigorous training these aviators undergo ensures their capability to pull through the worst.

"We take this training particularly seriously because it very well could happen to us some day," added 1st Lt. Danielle, 34th Bomb Squadron weapon systems officer. "I definitely feel more prepared."