RANGE SUPPORT: SERE's creed "Return with Honor" enhanced by range

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: The 1st Special Operations Support Squadron Range Support flight is dedicated to providing Air Force Special Operations Command, the 1st Special Operations Wing, joint and coalition units with realistic training scenarios in preparation for real world challenges. The flight is comprised of four departments: opposition forces, assault zones, maritime training, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. This is part four of a four-part series highlighting each of those divisions.

"If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy." -U.S. Code of Conduct, Article III

Despite being taught those words for the first time in training, many Airmen may not fully appreciate the meaning behind the text or why it's important enough to be considered "the code of conduct." Established by then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 in the aftermath of the Korean War, its significance may be seen as antiquated with each passing decade and as the United States faces enemies who don't seem to play by any rules at all.

But for those Airmen whose pasts have enabled them to see firsthand the value of the code, they understand it's not only essential enough to be adhered to but to be shared with others. The lessons of their own experiences can serve as powerful examples for others that may illustrate the difference between life and death in a hostile situation.

It was for these reasons the Air Force incorporated the Code of Conduct into its Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to help Airmen evade capture and sharpen their survival skills while in enemy territory. The primary SERE training center at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., introduces soon-to-be specialists to six months of intense physical and mental conditioning before sending them out to teach programs and deploy around the world.

Although Hurlburt Field's program offers refresher courses for Airmen to complete any necessary training requirements, it is much more than a means to mark items on a yearly checklist. The SERE specialists are able to utilize the multitude of resources and teachings from their fellow 1st Special Operations Support Squadron Range Support flight that are as vast as the Eglin range itself.

"We have one of the most robust SERE programs in the entire Air Force," said one SERE specialist. "Our training goes through a full spectrum of scenarios they may find themselves in during a wartime function or other geo-political situations. My entire job exists to support those guys to make sure they know what to do to resist, escape, get recovered and get back home with their families."

In addition to Code of Conduct continuation lessons, SERE specialists provide personnel faced with a high risk of capture or indoctrination reviews on emergency parachute, water survival and combat skills training. Unlike computer-based training modules and PowerPoint slideshows, these refresher courses submerge, both literally and figuratively, Airmen back in underwater and outdoor environments to reintroduce them to survival scenarios like radio and land navigation, urban movement drills and post-escape situations.

"An experience can change someone's outlook more than someone just telling them," said Staff Sgt. Hamsa Linsky, 1st SOSS Range Support flight SERE NCO in charge. "Everything from planning, preparing and ultimately doing something is why I enjoy this. In a way, a lot of what happens here ends up reinforcing common sense in people when it's needed most."

The SERE team's mission is only enhanced by the presence of other Range Support teams, the use of aircraft from the 1st Special Operations Wing and the program's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Eglin Range.

"We work tightly together since we share assets and are under a unified chain of command," Sergeant Linsky said. "And the people assigned here have more big-picture qualifications, capabilities and knowledge so that we're able to do a lot of things that a SERE program typically wouldn't be able to do."

Some examples of Range Support cooperation include maritime team members piloting watercraft with Airmen dragged in tow to simulate the gravimetric forces of opening a parachute at high speeds; Opposition Forces members playing an enemy force while catching obvious mistakes; and Assault Zone teams controlling air space and ground control when called upon.

Many of those contributions came into play during a combat skills training session conducted at an undisclosed location in the Eglin Range May 13. During the exercise, SERE specialists instructed techniques of making it through a simulated urban environment complete with pyrotechnics and explosions courtesy of OPFOR. The Airmen soon found themselves as man against nature as they endured a grueling 3.4-kilometer trek through the woods.

"That's when you get to see changes in people," Sergeant Linsky said. "They realize that, although they have set positions and titles, they will be taken out of their comfort zones and sometimes task-saturated while getting the mission done. That's when they have to communicate and work together as a team."

Even with their new-found cooperation and their best plans, the Airmen ended up becoming hostages and taken for a blacked-out car ride. But when all appeared lost, the former captors, both OPFOR and SERE specialists, became the good guys to stage a recovery effort. The exhausting ordeal ended with maritime personnel piloting boats through the alligator-infested swamps, signaling to the Airmen the end of their training and symbolizing their eventual rescue and return trip home.

For the SERE instructors, retraining Airmen on vital survival guidance proved to be more than just rereading the Code of Conduct and fulfilling a scheduled requirement. And with the waters in the gulf, the trees of the range and the clouds in the sky as their backdrop, the entire Range Support flight goes on to provide an avenue for Airmen, service members and clientele to experience the most realistic and in-depth training possible.

"That's what Range Support does best," Sergeant Linsky said. "And even if it's just the confidence of them knowing our guys are really good at what they do, the Airmen come out of here better. Everything we do supports the mission and helps save lives."