Starfruit and signals: SERE instructors share survival tips during COPE NORTH 16
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Wearing starched, grey field camouflage uniforms, airmen gathered under the orange glow of a canvas parachute suspended in the jungle canopy above.
Donned on their shoulders was the Hinomaru, or red circle of the sun — the Japanese flag. The group were members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force participating in Cope North 16 on Andersen Air Force Base. Unsure of what to expect, they were keen to learn more about what it takes to survive in the jungle.
In a one-day workshop held Feb. 16, U.S. Air Force survival, evasion, resistance, and escape, or SERE, specialists from the 353rd Combat Training Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, shared basic jungle survival strategies with the participants — tips that could save these aviators’ lives.
“Wherever we go in the world today, operations can put us into potential harm, such as a jungle environment,” said Master Sgt. Kurtis Douge, the 353rd CTS, a veteran SERE specialist of more than 13 years. “Today, we made sure this team has some basic survival skills if they did find themselves in a jungle environment and would be better prepared to survive.”
Over the course of the day, Douge and his fellow instructor, Staff Sgt. Levi Wood, demonstrated a variety of tips and tricks — from how to start a fire using bamboo and fire steel to building an effective roof for shelter from tropical elements.
“You need to build a fire, catch food and be able to signal to get found and recovered,” said Staff Sgt. Levi Wood, noncommissioned officer in charge of training with the 353rd CTRS. “The tools to accomplish that vary, and sometimes it takes improvisation.”
The students then learned how to find and prepare food only with jungle materials by boiling water for rice and ramen in simple green bamboo stalks. The instructors also reminded the students that local fruit may be a great resource, such as Carambola, or starfruit, and the simple coconut.
“The jungle is your hardware and grocery store,” Douge told them. “It offers tools and food — just have to know how to find them.”
While the training was serious business, Wood lightened some moments using tricks he learned over the years.
“Would you like to see some magic?” he asked.
With two strokes of his machete, Wood skillfully disassembled a lithium battery and uncoiled the tightly wound metal paper within. With a few drops of water from a bottle, the tangle ignited into a crimson-red flame at his feet. Of course, he said, this only works once, but it’s another way of starting a fire in a bind.
“This is my office,” Wood said. “I love being out in the wilderness; we get to teach other people more about it and watch them enjoy it. It’s great.”
But the jungle can also hold dangers - snakes, spiders and dehydration are formidable enemies for downed aviators. To reduce anxiety in the real-world, Wood demonstrated how to catch and safely handle one of Guam’s most infamous predators: the brown tree snake.
The goal of the training, Wood said, is to minimize time in the wild and expedite recovery. To allow search and rescue aircraft to see through dense jungle vegetation, participants therefore received training on signal flares, mirrors and the use of ground-to-air symbols to increase their chances of being rescued.
As the course progressed, initial apprehension gave way to smiles on the participants’ faces.
“If I had to survive in the jungle, I think I would have a better chance at survival thanks to this training,” said Tech. Sgt. Shinchiro Sasaki, a pararescue jumper with the JSDAF. “We learned many new things in this training, and it was very interesting. My favorite part were the snakes, of course.”
For Douge and Wood, this may have been another day at the office, but both know that even small tips may well save a service member’s life when help is far away.
“Just after a few hours out here with us, you can tell their confidence level is just a little bit higher and sometimes in a survival situation that’s what you need to get through — that little edge of confidence and knowledge,” Douge said. “As a SERE specialist, teaching other people new [survival] skills is at the core of what we do — and Cope North is a great opportunity because it allows us to share our knowledge with our coalition partners here in the Pacific.”