Friday, January 30, 2015

TOP STORY >> Arming aircrew with survival skills

By Senior Airman Kaylee Clark
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructors are trained from day one to survive on their own. Tech. Sgt. John Conant IV, a 34th Combat Training Squadron SERE specialist lives this training every day. 

Conant is stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, a state away from his home unit, the 34th CTS-an isolated situation for the SERE specialist. 

“This can be a foreign feeling to some, but you just have to find a way to meet your needs, improvise along the way, think outside the box, and press forward,” said Conant. “It isn’t impossible; it just doesn’t come easy.” 

Conant serves as the section chief for joint SERE operations for GREEN FLAG Little Rock.

All aircrews that flew to Alexandria, Louisiana, during GFLR Jan. 13-20 were notified to prepare for the possibility of enduring SERE training. Prior to the aircrew’s arrival, Conant filled canteens with water and ensured the crew members’ survival vests were good to go. 

“Of course nobody wants to go through this, but our job is to prepare them for the worst possible day of their life,” said Conant.

Once the aircraft was parked on the flightline, he approached the crew to inform them they had 90 seconds to gather what they needed and get off of the aircraft. 

The SERE specialists explained to observers, “When they see SERE instructors coming and hear them say, ‘grab what you need’, they know what they are about to endure, and most aren’t happy about it.”

All aircrew Airmen are required to go through SERE training. But after initial schooling, Airmen are only required to attend a SERE refresher training every three years at their home station. 

Conant briefed the crew on the way to Fort Polk to watch for prominent, geographic landmarks and pay attention to the turns that were made. These details would help the crew locate themselves on a map at the drop-off point. 

After driving to a remote location surrounded with pine trees and dense brush, Conant supplied the team with a button compass for their navigation to the extraction point. 

“There’s millions of ways to survive,” said Conant. “I can teach you to build a fire a dozen different ways, but I can’t teach you the want to live.”

Although crossing the muddy, unfamiliar terrain was a physical obstacle, the team excelled at keeping quiet to avoid the potential opposing forces.

Conant’s presence to answer questions or support the crew in a time of need is improbable in the event of a real isolated situation.

“My drive to do this job is knowing I have armed someone with the skills necessary to handle a worst case scenario,” said Conant. “I could spend 20 plus years in this career field and still be learning and attempting to master every aspect until the day I hang up the uniform.”

After 11 grueling hours of trudging through Louisiana’s sub-tropical conditions, the team made it to their extraction point in the pitch-black of the night, and Conant had successfully led another crew through training.