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Team Dover Airmen survive land and water training

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class William Johnson
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, motto is very simple, but grave, "Return with Honor."

It is a motto that SERE specialists here at Dover AFB, Delaware, instill in aircrews, giving them the confidence they need to embark on any mission across the world. Team Dover 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, July 16-17, 2015.

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, 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 splitting into different four- and five-man teams. The teams spent several hours navigating woodland terrain and marsh with limited supplies and gear. They relied heavily on tactics, techniques, and procedures, or TTPs, to elude enemy forces and navigate their way to a rendezvous point to be rescued by friendly forces.

Senior Airman Leo Avila, 709th Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy engineer, was responsible for navigating his team to various checkpoints throughout the training, all with older, but proven methods and technologies.

"The training today was definitely a boost of confidence for me," said Avila. "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."

However, the diverse airlift missions supported by Team Dover means it sends 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 their training consisted of working with the U.S. Coast Guard, being rescued by helicopter from the waters of the Delaware Bay. Coast Guard crews hoisted Airmen in emergency rafts from the bay and into their helicopters, giving the students the experience of actually being rescued and lifted into a helicopter. 

Senior Master Sgt. Lori Tascione, 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," said Tascione. "Most of the locations we go over have ice cold water. So you have to know how to protect yourself from anti 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," said Tascione. "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 by training with the Coast Guard, it 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," said Ellerd. "The experience 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 for multiple years at Dover AFB, said he hopes his students never have to use their survival 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 is 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," said Ellerd. "That's what really drives it home, to see somebody comeback and who did survive and had that will to take care of themselves."