Team Shaw fighter pilots get SERE-ious

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael A. Cossaboom
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Three kilometers south of their destination, two pilots navigate the dense woodlands of Poinsett Range. After a heavy rain the night prior, the pilots fight for every step as they advance.

As numerous aggressors search for the downed pilots, they must use their survive evade resist and escape skills to get through the rough wooded area to reach a simulated rescue helicopter.

The Air Force has made sure that Airmen who find themselves stuck in an isolated location, have the necessary skills to return with honor.

Staff Sgt. Bryce Winder, 20th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist, is one of approximately 400 active-duty Airmen who get to teach that important skill set.

"Our primary mission back home is to prepare war fighters for any situation where they may need to evade back to friendly control," said Winder. "While deployed, we support personnel recovery planning and execution."

The Air Force introduced SERE training at the end of the Korean War. Later, the Army and Navy adopted it after the Vietnam War.

Winder conducts a course that helps pilots retune their SERE skills on everything from medical problems they may face, radio communication, Global Positioning System device reading and field training scenarios.

The heart of SERE training is conducted at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Most of the active-duty SERE specialists are stationed there, which leaves other bases undermanned due to the shortage of SERE specialists across the Air Force.

"I'm the only SERE specialist on base," said Winder tiredly. "Most bases in Air Combat Command only have one specialist assigned, it's a lot of work to do for one person, and on top of everything I have to keep up with my own qualifications."

But regardless of how many people there are, the mission must be completed.

"I think Winder does a solid job with training," said Capt. Jeremy Smallwood, 77th Fighter Squadron electronic combat pilot. "He provides great training that will help us stay prepared."

Winder, who has about six years of active duty service, earned his coveted sage beret in 2008, and has been instructing war fighting Airmen ever since.

"This job means some amazing things," said Winder. "But it's a huge responsibility as well. I'm a pretty relaxed guy, but I take my job very seriously. If one of our pilots ejects he's counting on what I taught him to get home safe."

With the aggressors moving in on the pilot's location, they find their way to the extraction point and wait for rescue. After a few minutes the rescue helicopter comes and scoops them up. SERE training has once again allowed the pilots to return with honor to fly another day.