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Refresher course allows pilots to hone survival skills

  • Published
  • By Airman Madelyn Waychoff
  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Out among unknown landscape, pilots scramble to evade potential captors by hiding under bushes and trees until they can escape enemy territory. It will take all their survival skills not to get caught, even if this is only an exercise.

About seven times a year, pilots are brought together here for a refresher course in combat survival training. Students begin the day reviewing academics for three hours before being sent out into the field for their real task, survive, evade, resist and escape.

Pilots are required to take the class every two years. During their initial pilot training, they go through a 17-day combat survival-training course at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. The initial course is more in-depth than the refresher, said a pilot attending the course, because students not only have to evade and survive, they are also captured and interrogated.

The refresher course, though lasting only a day, is still extremely important, said Capt. Andrew Caggiano, an F-16 pilot.

"Not only do we need to worry about survival in enemy territory, but also in everyday flying," he said. "If our plane malfunctions and we have to eject out over the desert, we need to know how to survive until we can get rescued."

Students get most of the same gear they would carry during flying operations, including a vest with a compass attached to it, a map of the territory, a global positioning system tracker, water, a whistle and a radio.

During the academic portion of the course, students review survival techniques, learn how to make animal traps and fishing poles, and are taught to perform an edibility test on unknown vegetation.

Self-aid and buddy care are also emphasized during the class, not only for review, but in case a pilot sustains an injury during the field training.

Following the classroom lessons, the class moves outdoors to review map reading and landmark-recognition skills. The pilots are taken to a drop-off point and briefed on the location of the rescue point and how much time they have to get there. The location is programmed into the pilot's GPS system, which they use with the map and compass to find their way.

The students are divided into teams of two, briefed on the rules and released. Moving quickly, they look for a secluded area to apply camouflage face paint, then continue on, dodging and ducking.

After giving the pilots a head start, the instructors comb the area on foot and in vehicles, searching for the evading students. The search simulates, as closely as possible, the situation a downed pilot would face in hostile territory.

If a team is caught, the pilots are sent to a waiting area until the end of the exercise. Once the designated time runs out, students receive feedback from the instructors on their performance.

While pilots must receive the training periodically, every Air Force member should know something about survival techniques because they can be needed in many situations, Caggiano said. (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)