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Army pilots refresh skills so they can survive if they are shot down or crash

Fort Bliss (Ancheta Wis/WikiMedia)
October 11, 2020

Army pilots might be on their own for days at a time if they crash or are shot down behind enemy lines.

That is the message about 20 pilots from Fort Bliss’ attack-reconnaissance battalion received during a recent daylong training session known as SERE — Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.

Pilots from the Combat Aviation Brigade’s 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment went through about a 4 ½-mile land navigation course in the Fort Bliss training area.

They had to find different coordinate points and when they arrived at each, they underwent instruction and training in how to survive out in the field.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric Dear, the battalion’s tactical operations officer, oversaw the training, along with his counterparts at the company level.

SERE training is done every six months as a refresher to what pilots learned when they were at Army flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., Dear said.

The recent training also will serve as the foundation for a larger, more elaborate training event that the battalion’s pilots will go through later in the year in which they will have to survive for several days out in the field, said Dear, from Edmond, Okla.

SERE training will become especially important as the Army continues to pivot away from the counterinsurgency fight it has been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepares for possible army-on-army fighting, Dear said.

“When you are beyond the forward lines of our troops, you are basically on your own,” Dear said. “This gives them basically an inoculation” and prepares them for that possibility.

Pilots received instruction in immediate first aid, such as applying a tourniquet, that can keep themselves or a crew member alive, Dear said.

They also received training on how to start a fire to keep warm and how to signal for air- or ground-based rescue crews. In addition, they got to practice using their survival radios.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ron Warren, the tactical operations officer for Alpha Company, 1-501st, said that during counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, pilots could expect to be rescued relatively quickly.

But if the Army is facing what it calls a near-peer foe — a country that possesses near the same technology and capabilities as the United States — that might not be possible and pilots might need to be responsible for their own survival, said Warren, from Delta, Utah.

“You will not be the main effort if you are shot down,” Warren said about a near-peer or army-on-army fight. “There will be a larger fight going on. You will need to survive on your own, possibly for days.”

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Rojas, the tactical operations officer for Bravo Company, said the training is designed to produce “muscle memory” so pilots don’t have to think about what they need to do out in the field.

Part of the training included a quick refresher on the items in their air warrior vest, including a knife, first aid kit, signaling device and medication, Rojas said.

“It’s just a reminder of what is in your vest in case you need to use it,” said Rojas, from Washington, D.C.

Spc. Karl Pearson, a combat medic from Wentzville, Mo., taught the quick training session on first aid.

Pearson said the goal is to improve pilots’ ability to survive if recovery teams can’t get to them quickly.


© 2020 the El Paso Times