SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
The summer sun beat down upon the survival, evasion, resistance and escape augmentees as they set up the “classroom” in the middle of the woods.
The incoming aircrew, pilots and weapon systems officers knew they were taking part in a combat survival training class, but they had no idea what was in store for them.
Every three years, pilots and WSO’s retake their CST and water survival training courses to fortify their skills in case they ever need to call on them.
Most of the time, one of two SERE specialists stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base conduct the training, which can last for over eight hours.
“Because one of us is always on a temporary duty or deployed, we end up having to train the pilots and WSO’s by ourselves,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Krape, 4th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist. “But, this augmentee program we’re running really makes the training a more educational and better experience. Because we have these guys, the training runs in a smoother, more cohesive manner.”
Krape trains Airmen from different squadrons on base to become SERE augmentees. To become a SERE augmentee, the Airmen need to pass the physical ability and stamina test, a treacherous three-day CST as well as a WST.
According to Krape, the most recent augmentee class started with 120 participants and quickly dwindled to less than 20, just from the grueling PAST test.
After successfully completing the requirements, Airmen are able to help the SERE specialists.
“These Airmen save me countless hours and extra work,” Krape said.
Krape and the augmentees led a CST course for pilots and WSO’s at Howell Woods, Four Oaks, North Carolina, June 27. While an augmentee drove a van filled with aircrew, Krape was able to bring a second vehicle containing the necessary equipment for the training and their all-terrain vehicle.
As Krape briefed the class on what they were going to experience during CST, the augmentees readied the equipment, untangled parachutes, inspected vests and made sure all radios were in working order.
“We get the gear and equipment set up for Staff Sergeant Krape, so he has more time to brief the class and has less to worry about,” said Senior Airman Aaron Ash, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron precision measurement equipment laboratory technician and SERE augmentee. “After the equipment is good to go, we’ll continue to help get these pilots and WSO’s ready for a real world event.”
The class was broken up into three separate teams, two teams of two and one team of three. Then the simulation began.
The teams ejected from their F-15E Strike Eagles before the jets crashed, stranding them deep behind enemy lines.
The teams quickly gathered the tools from their gear, then hid the parachute and remaining gear from sight to hopefully evade enemy forces, all within a few minutes. The augmentees followed all the teams to recover the hidden equipment while they explained why the hiding location was or was not a good choice. That was the last time the aircrew would be happy to see the augmentees.
The teams were now on their own, running and hiding to evade enemy forces and escape the area.
The augmentees gathered up and waited a few minutes before simulating OPFOR, and all the while discussed how they could capture the “enemy pilots.”
“This is where the teams can apply what they learned today,” said Airman 1st Class Angela Lambert, 4th Component Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion technician and SERE augmentee. “They’re going to act like this is a real-life situation, and we’re going to do the same.”
The augmentees set off into the woods by foot and by ATV, hunting for the downed aircrew.
Running, hiding, doing anything to prevent being captured, the aircrew still had to keep in contact with friendly forces via radio. Code words and challenges were used by the downed aircrew as security measures over the encrypted radios to ensure their safety.
Krape, being the voice on the friendly radio, gave the aircrew coordinates for an extraction. It was up to the pilots and WSO’s to get there safely, and on-time.
Resonating through the woods, an OPFOR radio crackled, “We found them!”
“Once I caught a glimpse of one of the guys, I explained what they did wrong and what they could do better next time,” Ash said. “They took it in, and my partner and I sent them back into the woods. We waited a short time and started searching for them and the other teams again.”
While the augmentees searched for the downed aircrews, Krape sent a curveball to the aircrew.
The extraction point was compromised. The aircrew had to move to a completely new coordinate quickly and without being detected.
“I’m getting the chance to set up the extraction to be more life-like while the augmentees are hunting,” Krape said. “Normally, I’d have to set up the extraction and look for 3 different teams trying to evade me all at once. At that point, it’s not too hard to evade just one person.”
Out in the distance, F-15E Strike Eagles could be heard in the air.
“Sometimes we’re able to get the jets to come and join the training,” Krape said. “With the extra bodies I have today, I can communicate with our guys in the sky and let them have some fun too.”
The pilots and WSO’s on the ground called in for air support, in hopes of destroying or scaring away the OPFOR.
Within a short time, an F-15E annihilated the ATV combing the woods with a simulated attack.
“After getting word from the pilot in the Strike Eagle the ATV was hit, we let the ATV know and they stopped the vehicle,” Krape said. “The pilot then radioed down to us they could see two people crawling and limping away from the target while they are thousands of feet in the air.”
Shortly after the simulated explosion, an F-15E received a request for close air-support. There was OPFOR team closing in on a team’s hiding spot, and they did not want to be found or captured.
While being within ear-shot of the OPFOR, the team called in coordinates and the pilot in the sky responded, “Bombs away, danger close.”
The OPFOR, scared by the air superiority of the Strike Eagle, retreated.
The teams used this opportunity to make their way to the extraction point, while still using the techniques they learned and adhering to the tips they received. The augmentees took this time to get the van ready to extract the teams while Krape prepared for the debriefing.
The downed aircrew reached the extraction point, an open field with a dirt road on the far side. They stayed within the tree-line, and called for their extraction.
A dark blue van came hurtling down the dirt road and screeched to a stop. The side door burst open and the man motioned for the hidden team to get to the van, and quickly.
The team sprinted from their cover and dove into the back of the van. The back doors slammed shut and rocks spat from tires as the van shot forward, whisking the downed aircrew away, and bringing them to friendly territory.
Once all the teams were safely extracted, Krape and the aircrew discussed the training while the augmentees cleaned up and packed everything away, making sure everything was accounted for.
“Having the augmentees made everything about today better,” said Capt. Dylan Muench, 336th Fighter Squadron pilot. “They really saved us a lot of time out here, made the training more realistic, and even gave the pilots in the air some training. Overall, the training has a better flow and I speak for all of us when I say we feel more prepared and confident in our abilities to use SERE techniques if we ever need them. We can thank Krape and the augmentees for that.”
Executing the mission is more than just having dominant Strike Eagle power, it’s also about having dominant Airmen … Anytime, Anywhere.