SERE instructors ensure water survival skills
By Tech. Sgt. Cohen A. Young , Defense Media Activity Hawaii News Bureau
/ Published April 13, 2009
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- A sudden jump into the ocean after an airplane malfunction could leave a person confused and helpless, but the chances of survival can greatly increase if that person has attended water survival training at Survival Evasion Resistance Escape School at McChord AFB, Wash. or Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla.
The training gives crews the skills needed to survive in case of a water landing, said Tech. Sgt. Sherwood Brown, a 14-year SERE specialist assigned to the 15th Operational Support Squadron here.
"Failure to prepare is preparing to fail," said Sergeant Brown. "We prepare crews to not only use the skills we teach them, but the equipment that the government gives them so that they can save their lives."
As an instructor, he provides refresher training to aircrews to ensure they are current and prepared in case of an emergency.
"We get this training every two years and it's good to know what to do in case we ever did go down," said Capt. George Adams, 535th Airlift Squadron C-17 pilot.
In case of an in-flight emergency that a plane could not recover from, the crew would bail out. Upon entering the water, they would immediately enter a life raft and make sure everyone is accounted for. The crew must prepare the raft for whatever obstacle they may encounter, such as rough seas, which would require everyone to tie themselves into the raft and strap down gear to ensure crew members and equipment don't spill over.
Sergeant Brown ensures the crews are ready for such obstacles by taking them out to Honeycomb Beach here. Crewmembers are isolated in one-on-one scenarios as well as group scenarios, which go a long way toward ensuring their safety should they ever have to enter the water in an emergency.
One-on-one scenarios require a member to lift himself into a one-person raft and identify three points of air entry to inflate the sides. This allows protection from the elements as well as establishing a certain level of comfort.
Individuals also must follow a parachute line under water that will guide them into a clear area, which simulates the experience of being caught under a parachute while in the water. And the final refresher is being dragged by a jet ski through the water that mimics the feeling of the wind catching the canopy of a member's parachute and dragging the person through water.
Sergeant Brown enforces the "Five A's" during the training: air for the raft, assist others, throw out the anchor, pull in the accessory kit and then analyze the situation.
"It all organizes them so they can do everything step-by-step in order to survive," said Sergeant Brown.
The crewmembers enjoy the training and get a lot out of it.
"It's good to actually get away from the Powerpoint slides and do the actual hands on," Capt. John Brantuk, a C-17 pilot assigned to the 535th Airlift Squadron. "This is fun."
Sergeant Brown's job is a unique one in which he says he hopes his students never have to use what they've learned. He is rewarded with a satisfaction when past students have encountered real-world scenarios and later thanked him for that training that saved their lives.