KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing boasts a diverse mission-set, some of which are considered “at risk of isolation.” In order to be considered fully qualified, Reserve Citizen Airmen performing at-risk missions are required to complete the challenging Initial Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape course at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
The Initial SERE course is a one-time requirement for these members, but as locations and situations differ and evolve, it’s up to unit SERE Specialists like Tech. Sgt. Ethan Perry of the 403rd Operations Support Squadron to refresh and prepare at-risk members of the wing for “the worst day of their lives.”
The path to become someone the Air Force relies on to ensure the best possibility of survival for thousands of at-risk Airmen is rigorous, but ultimately rewarding.
“The training starts before you even go to Basic (Military Training). You have to take a (Physical Assessment ability and Stamina Test) and pass it in order to qualify for a slot,” said Perry. “Once you get through basic, you go through a three-week course; it was called selection when I went through. Two weeks are on base and the third one is out in the field. This is where we lose people, and they end up going to other career-fields.”
As far as advice for getting through the these physically and mentally demanding trials both before and during tech school, Perry shared the following three nuggets of wisdom: be able to take feedback, apply or make an honest attempt to apply the feedback, and do not say the words ‘I quit.’
Following selection, the prospective SERE specialists are sent to Fairchild where they first must get through the initial course followed by another short, physically “indoctrination” course before beginning their six-month technical school instruction.
“After graduating tech school, you stay at Fairchild for at least another 6 months to be certified on all of the lessons they teach there,” he said. “Once certified, if you’re a reservist or in the National Guard, you go back to your unit, and if you’re active duty you stay at Fairchild and work either in resistance training, at the on-base field training, or water survival.”
Perry served for over five years on Active Duty, all at Fairchild, before deciding to transition into the Air Force Reserve and taking a full-time Active Guard Reserve position at the 403rd Wing.
“A lot of what I do here is providing refresher training and preparing the at-risk personnel like pilots and loadmasters for survival in times of distress or isolation in austere environments,” said Perry. “For example, the (53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron) Hurricane Hunters fly over the ocean into hurricanes, so if they were to go down during a mission, they need to know how to survive in the ocean, so they all have to take water survival training.”
He also, in coordination with intelligence personnel, gathers risk factors in relation to specific deployment or temporary duty locations and delivers High Risk of Isolation, or HRI, briefs.
“Recently, members from the 36th (Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) deployed to an area,” he recounted. “So, we briefed them about enemies and known terrorist groups in the area, what they can expect if they were to be captured, and what’s inside their survival kits and how to use its contents.”
In addition to SERE training, personnel recovery is the other large portion of Perry’s responsibilities. If a situation occurs where a member goes down, Perry is expected to be able to provide insight to leaders about key aspects of recovery and survivability such as assets in the area, how long it will take to get to them, what the risks are, how long the isolated can survived based off of their resources, and any other relevant information to aid commanders in deciding how to go forward.
“While I don’t plan to do this long-term—my ultimate goal is to become a pilot--I do enjoy this job,” said Perry. “I like the personnel recovery part, knowing that if someone goes down, it’s up to me to figure out what it’s going to take to get them back safe. Also, the hands-on survival training, whether in the ocean teaching water survival or in the woods building a fire, is something not a lot of people get to do on a regular basis.”
Other perks of the job he noted were the stability of being a reservist, knowing he wouldn’t be asked to do a permanent change of station like on active duty, and the travel opportunities he gets with the wing’s two flying squadrons.
The 403rd Wing currently has two more traditional reservist SERE specialist positions available, said Lt. Col David Gentile, 403rd OSS director of operations.
According to the Air Force Reserve Officer and Enlisted Bonus Guide – FY23, the SERE (1T0X1) career-field is eligible for non-prior enlistment and reenlistment bonuses as well as an affiliation bonus of $20,000 for qualifying members coming from Active Duty. For more information, reach out to recruiting at 228-377-5236 or the 403rd OSS at 228-377-0921.