LEE, Mass. – For a Soldier surviving a helicopter crash in a combat zone, being able to avoid enemy insurgents, survive in the wild, and link up with their unit could make the difference between sleeping on their own cot and living in a cage.
In order to teach survival and evasion techniques to their Soldiers, the 126th Aviation Battalion, Massachusetts Army National Guard, held a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training exercise in October Mountain State Forest, April 5, 2014. The forest is part of the scenic Appalachian Trail making it a perfect location for survival training.
The exercise started with the basics of how to move undetected through enemy territory to get to a prearranged position as quickly as possible and catch a ride on a friendly helicopter.
1st Lt. Andres Ciro, who taught the evasion and orienting portion of the training said, “Concealing your movement is very important but you also have to hide your tracks. If they can’t find your tracks they might waste a lot of time looking in the wrong place while you’re getting closer to your extraction point,” said Ciro.
After evasion and orienting, Soldiers moved to another location to learn survival skills. Along the way they moved in tactical formations, and practiced communicating their position to friendly forces. When they reached the next training site, Soldiers learned how to start a fire and purify water using whatever was available in their environment. Warriors finding themselves in these circumstances could use a fire to prevent hypothermia and boil water.
Sgt. John Cooney helped teach Soldiers to start fires and emphasized the importance of drinking plenty of water saying: “Staying hydrated is very important in a survival situation while you’re on the run, but you must only drink pure water so you don’t get sick. If you get sick you will not be able to stay hydrated,” said Cooney.
Starting a fire may bring unwanted attention to Soldiers who are trying to avoid people, so Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Fitzgerald taught Soldiers techniques to filter water by using natural, and man-made materials that won’t attract attention.
On their way to the final destination Soldiers received more training on tactical movement and communications. Stressing how important the training can be Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Connolly said: “Absorb as much of this training as you can now because you may not have a chance to practice it before you really have to do it. No one ever plans to be in this situation, and no one ever wants this to happen to them, said Connolly.
After arriving at the pick up location, all that was left to do was wait to be hoisted up into a hovering helicopter. This was not a simulated exercise. At this point, Soldiers flew a helicopter over the location, hovered in the air and lowered another Soldier to the ground who was suspended from a cable with a hoist attachment, so they could strap other Soldiers to it and be lifted to freedom.
Staying positive, motivated, and calm is essential to escaping from behind enemy lines. Exuding calm, cool, and collected, the only thing Spc. Jonathan Ocasio had to say moments before being plucked from the top of a hill into a hovering Black Hawk was, “I’ve been up before, it’s not bad.”