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SERE: Teaching how to survive

Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal Sept. 26, 2019, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho.

Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, stands surrounded by MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019. The smoke signals require gloves because of the high heat aluminum canisters emit when deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)


Being an aircrew member in the armed forces isn't just flying a plane, helicopter or jet. It's putting your own personal safety on the line to protect people from threats known and unknown.

It’s being brave enough to answer a call that most don't.

From as early as 1909, when the Wright brothers sold the Wright Military Flyer to the U.S. Army Signal Corps, aircraft and aircrew have been a vital part to the success of military operations.

The armed forces place a great emphasis on ensuring these pilots are safe and have the knowledge and skills to make it home safe in any situation they might endure.

This responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists, whose main job is to train aircrew and other military personnel how to survive in a variety of environments and conditions.

“I joined the Air Force and spent my first three years as an F-15 crew chief,” said Tech Sgt. Timothy Emkey, 366th Fighter Wing SERE specialist. “I cross-trained to (SERE) because I wanted to do something more challenging and outside of the norm.”

SERE specialists teach multiple courses and hold yearly and monthly refreshers with other military personnel to ensure they know what’s required to survive in a deployed environment and to better their knowledge and skills on what to do if they have to bail out.

One example is combat skills training. CST helps instill the necessary skills and knowledge needed to survive in a situation where the aircrew must bailout from the aircraft behind enemy lines.

The training starts with an hour-long classroom session before aircrew personnel are taken out to Saylor Creek Bombing Range.

Then aircrew members are taught how to use everything from flares, radios and other equipment to properly and effectively evade the enemy and return to safety.

Aircrew members are then given certain points to reach, via global positioning system, before they contact friendly forces to extract them from the hostile area.

Aircrew throughout history, such as Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, who in 1995, was shot down and stranded in enemy territory for six days during the Bosnian War, used these skills taught by SERE to return to safety.

“Knowing we provide training that could save someone’s life, but hope they never have to use it, is one of the most rewarding things in this job,” Emkey said.

Dedicated SERE specialists take lessons learned from situations all over the world, not just the military, and apply it to SERE’s skill set whether it be survival, evasion, resistance or escape.

Some of the Air Force’s main missions are to take care of Airmen and enhance readiness. SERE accomplishes just that, and will continue to with the ever changing environment these men and women might find themselves in.

“SERE is constantly adapting,” said Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th FW SERE specialist. “We are continuously implementing new technology and tactics to increase survivability in the future.”


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