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Augmentees ensure SERE program success

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Pilots, aircrew and other individuals deemed at high risk of isolation during a mission must undergo an initial Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

The training includes survival, combat survival, conduct after capture, water survival and emergency parachute training. The course gives pilots and other aircrew members the tools needed to survive if they were to get captured during a mission.

Afterwards, students complete attend refresher training every three years to stay proficient in those skills.

To assist with the training and make it as realistic as possible, the SERE team at Travis Air Force Base, California, utilizes an augmentee program.

“The augmentee program on other bases was first opened to those directly involved in aircrew, intel, aircrew flight equipment, so they could see how they contribute to the aircrew, such as the equipment AFE puts in the survival kits or how the aircrew utilizes the information from the intel at their final step briefing,” said Staff Sgt. Emanuel Espino-Mata, 60th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist.

The augmentee program is now open to all ranks and Air Force specialty codes and allows SERE specialists to put on more realistic training to help train pilots and aircrew how to survive, if their aircraft were to ever go down behind enemy lines.

“SERE training prepares aircrews by challenging us to survive and evade in realistic scenarios,” said Maj. Virgil Steele, 60th Air Mobility Wing deputy inspector general and C-17 Globemaster III pilot. “They go beyond classroom instruction by providing field based scenarios that let us apply the lessons learned in the classroom. Being in the field with the instructors helps reinforce proper procedures so we can easily recall them from memory should we have to bailout, ditch or crash land.”

The instruction given by the SERE specialists prepared pilots to survive in a hostile environment and return safely to fight another day, said Steele.

“It’s as real as it can get,” said Espino-Mata. “The more augmentees we have, the more realistic training we can put on. The aircrew are out on their own, communicating via radio and they are expected to navigate to specific points.”

Espino-Mata added that augmentees help ensure the jet skis and the all-terrain vehicles are fueled before a training event. They also ensure the pontoon has been checked and secured on the trailer and all the medical and role-play equipment has been loaded into the trucks.

“Depending on your rank, we look at how much responsibility can we give (the augmentees) or how they can manage each other,” said Espino-Mata. “Those that come several times, we give them a different level of responsibility. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in 12, 13 years or six months, everyone can contribute in some way, shape and form.”

Once at the training sites, the augmentees help set up for the scenarios and play an active role in the training such as tracking down the aircrew and acting as aggressors.

“The augmentees are a critical component of adding realism to the training,” said Steele. “Many of them role play as enemy forces seeking to capture us while we are out in the field. Their participation allows trainees to apply evasion and concealment techniques to avoid capture. It also raises the stakes for trainees and adds a level of stress to the scenario.”

Airman 1st Class Otari Mgvdliashvili, 60th Medical Support Squadron, said he enjoys being an augmentee because of the vital training they provide to pilots and aircrew.

“It gives us a direct impact training aircrew to do something you hope they never have to use,” said Mgvdliashvili. “You want to make it as realistic and as academically accurate of an environment to give them the best learning environment as possible.”

Staff Sgt. Glen Villegas, 60th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health, said the biggest take away from the augmentee program is the critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills he’s gained.

“When you utilize those skills out in the field it makes for a much better experience for the aircrew and for yourself as well and also brings that realism back over to them,” said Villegas. “You can translate all those skills back to your work center whether as a logistics person or an (aerial porter) or fixing planes, you can bring it back because you’ve exercised those critical thinking skills, communication, leadership and team work skills, and been put into an uncomfortable situation and made to be comfortable with it.”

Individuals interested in becoming augmentees receive all required training from SERE specialists.

To join the SERE Augmentee Program, visit https://eim.amc.af.mil/org/60oss/sere/default.aspx and click on the SERE Augmentee tab. Then, follow the step-by-step instructions on how to become an augmentee and how to volunteer for a training event.