Yokota aircrew practices survival tactics in Fuji foothills

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cody H. Ramirez
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Freezing rain pierces already soaked flight suits. Pools of water gather in boots. Hands are numb and stomachs empty. Warmth is a distant memory, but the aircrew isn't focused on the uncomfortable environment surrounding them. They are focused on one thing -- survival.

An aircrew with the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, tested their survival, evasion, resistance and escape capabilities at Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 16. The SERE-led exercise specifically tested their ability to survive a simulated aircraft crash behind enemy lines.

A platoon with the U.S. Marine Corps 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, provided a realistic aspect to the training, playing the part of "enemy" troops. The 25-member platoon and sniper team made up of Marines and Sailors searched for the lost aircrew, forcing the aircrew to truly implement the evasion aspect of their training.

"It was a game of strategy," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Johnis, 374th Operations Support Squadron SERE instructor. "[The aircrew] knew the enemy saw where they landed and could assume they were going to track them. They had to [evaluate] 'where do they think I am going to go' and 'where is the best place I can go until rescue comes in with guidance?'"

The four aircrew members were a sample representing their entire squadron's preparedness and readiness.

The Marine presence not only assisted in improving the effectiveness of the SERE training, but it also allowed the infantrymen an opportunity to train their own patrolling techniques such as weapon handling, using optics and field-equipment familiarization.

"It's not unrealistic to think that in a real combat environment an enemy pilot might get shot down in an area that we are [located], and the infantry would be the ones who went and looked for him," said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alex Banks, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines executive officer.

According to Banks, this was the first time his Camp Pendleton, Calif.,-based unit has trained with the Air Force -- at least in recent history.

"Working with the different forces is always good for us," Banks said. "We speak a little bit of a different language, we have different gear, and we do things a little differently. It's good to work out those kinks as United States military, working with each other, so we know how each other operate."

Banks thought the training was productive, "just as an overall opportunity for the guys to do something that is still relevant to what we are as an organization -- an infantry battalion -- but that we don't always get to do."

Johnis said the training wasn't only for the aircrew and Marines, but it also allowed the SERE team to test their training efficiency.

"In a sense, we are evaluating our ability to assist [the aircrew] and have them retain the information," Johnis said.

He added a lot of the responsibility is on the flight commander and what he allows his aircrew to fly with. His goal is to change any mindsets of "we are never going to go down" to "if we do go down, what do we need to survive?"

Johnis guaranteed the aircrew, who went through the joint SERE training at Fuji, would put more thought into their next pre-flight packing.

"They can bring this back to their squadron -- what they had that helped or what they didn't have that could have helped," Johnis said.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Rogers, 374th OSS SERE training NCO in charge, said he was impressed with the aircrew's ability to continue, their will to survive and their focus on the mission.

"They knew exactly what they had to accomplish," Rogers said. "They did what was required of them in a crappy situation. They didn't try to find ways out of the situation; they just dealt with it."

Rogers said a goal of the SERE training was to build the aircrew's will to survive and their desire to not give in and accept capture,.

"It is punishing, and it is grueling," Rogers said, but added that regardless of how difficult it might be to survive with minimal equipment, in austere locations, with challenging environmental factors, "one hundred days as an evader is better than one day in captivity, and I think those guys knew that."