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Commentary: PMEL by day, SERE by night

A survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, SERE augmentees, pilots, and weapon systems officers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, practice properly using smoke signals during a combat survival training course, June 27, 2017, at Howell Woods, Four Oaks, North Carolina. Pilots and WSO’s need to retake their CST and water survival training courses every three years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

A survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, SERE augmentees, pilots, and weapon systems officers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., practice properly using smoke signals during a combat survival training course, June 27, 2017, at Howell Woods, Four Oaks, N.C. Pilots and WSO’s need to retake their CST and water survival training courses every three years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

Senior Airman Aaron Ash, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron precision measurement equipment laboratory technician, looks for pilots and weapon systems officers hiding in the brush during a combat survival training course, June 27, 2017, at Howell Woods, Four Oaks, North Carolina. Ash is part of the survival, evasion, resistance and escape augmentee program at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aaron Ash, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron precision measurement equipment laboratory technician, looks for pilots and weapon systems officers hiding in the brush during a combat survival training course, June 27, 2017, at Howell Woods, Four Oaks, N.C. Ash is part of the survival, evasion, resistance and escape augmentee program at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --

In early 2016, two 4th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialists, Tech. Sgt. Scott Millisor and Staff Sgt. Joshua Krape, sent out a request for people interested in becoming SERE Augmentees.

These augmentees serve as opposing forces during combat survival training sessions for F-15E Strike Eagle pilots and weapons system operators. 

More than 120 Airmen responded and attended the briefing. During the briefing, we were given a transparent and detailed description of what would be required. 

Individuals were expected to pass the SERE Physical Ability and Stamina Test, which included pushups, situps, pullups, a 2-mile run, and 4-mile ruck march with 65 pounds of gear.

Of the 120 Airmen, only 20 of us completed the test and were scheduled for field training, a three-day event covering the basics of survival, day and night land navigation, tactical communication, and evasion. There was a catch -- we could only use the equipment available to F-15E aircrews. There were no tents, propane grills, sleeping bags or air mattresses, and no food.

Our group sat in the classroom of the SERE shop, panning the room nervously Oct. 5, 2016, at 7 a.m. Throughout the morning, we went over our special instructions, learned the basic principles of land navigation, like plotting grid-coordinates using a map and compass, and how to build makeshift shelters with only a poncho and parachute cord. 

After lunch, we double-checked our equipment and drove five hours inland to Pisgah National Forest, in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  We then hiked to our destination and set up camp for the night.  For the next two days, Millisor and Krape tested our proficiency as leaders, navigators, and survivors. We were sent through thickets and creeks, along rough terrain, upward, downward, and all over the mountain.  Hunger set in rapidly, so we ate all the grasshoppers we could find, boiled acorns, and did our best to catch crawfish.  Most importantly, we learned how to battle the frustration of feeling disoriented.

Upon completion of the exercise, we learned SERE Augmentee training had served a dual purpose. Primarily, we familiarized ourselves with the skills needed to serve as opposing forces, which provides added realism during aircrew combat survival training. 

In addition, our experiences have given Millisor and Krape valuable information regarding the durability and effectiveness of the survival gear the aircrew depends on, every time their jet leaves the runway. 

We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have had this opportunity and encourage everyone to find something that broadens their perspective of the Air Force.  If nothing else, you might find that grasshoppers are delicious -- when hunger is your chef.