Hide fast, move slow
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- From outside the woods, it looks like several Airmen playing a game of hide and seek that any passerby would dismiss as "boys being boys."
Once you take a look inside the woods and add the uniforms, well-trained seekers and cold adrenaline-filled pilots, then it becomes a Wolf Pack Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape combat survival exercise. The training is required every three years and starts with academics then concludes in a field training exercise that reflects everything learned.
"I can talk to you all day, show you powerpoint, but until you get out in the mud, sticks and weather you really are not going to be able to grasp all the concepts," said Tech. Sgt. Kurtis Douge, 8th Operations Support Squadron weapons and tactics chief. "It's all about hands-on training; if we don't get them out here in the woods, it's going to be hard for them to remember. That muscle memory is important."
The 8th OSS weapons and tactics section trained Wolf Pack pilots on tactics and skills to avoid adversaries if they ever eject over hostile territory. The pilots were taught evasion, concealment of equipment and person, navigation and overall survival tactics that will let them return home safely.
"Obviously we want to make the training as realistic as possible, so we are using all the equipment the aircrew would have," said Douge. "Another part of that realistic training is our opposition forces."
The simulation revolved around this scenario: pilots ejected over the green hills of Korea with their survival equipment. Within 10 minutes of "landing," SERE released opposition forces to track and hunt the pilots. The volunteers scoured the vegetation looking for pilots, tracking where they laid and stored their gear. One of the pilots confirmed what the others sensed when they heard the opposition force screaming for them.
"It absolutely increased the effectiveness of this training by having actual OPFOR tracking us and trying to find us," said Maj. Zachary Manning, 35th Fighter Squadron pilot. "When we received the final radio call for pick up and we all emerged from our covered position to meet with the SERE team, it was a good feeling knowing that we had effectively evaded our 'hunters' and that we had all made it out. The training gives pilots the tools needed if they ever need to eject."
After more than four hours of moving tree to tree and brush to brush, the pilots took a breath knowing that all of them evaded their seekers. They learned some useful tactics and skills and according to Manning, they will take the training from the hills to the sky.
"Douge and his SERE team put on some of the most valuable and realistic training that I have had the opportunity to be a part of," said Manning. "The skills learned during the 'field' portion of CST have increased my confidence in effective evasion techniques and enhanced my wartime readiness."