Safe in the snow: 31 FW, ITAF undertake joint survival training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. K. Tucker Owen
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The forest is nearly silent; the only sounds reaching their ears are those of their own breaths and the crunch of snow underfoot. A heavy fog has set in across the slope of the snow-covered mountain, making their job that much more difficult - but working in the favor of the three ‘survivors’ evading pursuit.

U.S. and Italian air force members participated in a week-long exchange of search and recovery, combat and cold weather survival, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) tactics, techniques and procedures at Aviano Air Base, Jan. 19 - 22.

“The group we were talking to, all of them were interested,” said Italian air force Primo Luogotenente Leonardo M., 15th Wing, 81st Search and Rescue Training Center instructor. “They were all participating in our lesson and asking questions, they wanted to be involved. It makes us happy and proud of our job because we know we are helping them to better understand what we are talking about.”

The week began on Tuesday with an in-class briefing of local conditions by Tech. Sgt. Mike Rutland, 31st Operations Support Squadron SERE noncommissioned officer in charge, covering topics ranging from dangerous plants and animals to the “via ferrata” system of metal cables or ladders that assist in climbing dangerous routes within the mountains.

On Wednesday the class took a hike on snowshoes across the snowy hillsides of Piancavallo where Leonardo and his partner, Primo Luogotenente Stefano B., instructed the students on snow profiles and avalanche theory.

“It’s very important to teach what can be dangerous in an environment such as the mountains, especially in the wintertime when there is snow,” said Leonardo. “Most people have a slight knowledge of avalanches and, generally speaking, about the dangers you can face in the mountain. If someone is approaching a slope, the most important thing to determine is if that slope is dangerous, and if we can trigger an avalanche because we are approaching the slope in the wrong way.”

Thursday, the group packed up and headed out to Pian Cansiglio, where they participated in combat survival training. Three U.S. Airmen participated as the ‘survivors’ in a downed aircraft scenario, while four others played the part of the opposing forces. Meanwhile, Rutland, Leonardo and Stefano oversaw the exercise and its participants to ensure objectives were met.

The exercise was a chance to teach his ITAF counterparts how to be a scenario script manager, said Rutland. Those skills will become necessary for when they attend Red Flag Rescue this summer, the world’s premier combat search and rescue training exercise held at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

“I wanted them to walk away from (this training) understanding the overall objectives, how you can run the scenario to meet those objectives, and how to do so safely in a field-type setting,” said Rutland.

Both Rutland and Leonardo agreed that the procedures in place for the search and rescue and SERE career fields are very similar across even the international boundaries.

The main goal for the week’s training was communication, said Rutland. It is important for them to understand how to convey the information in a way their audience can understand, despite the language barrier.

“It is very easy to explain yourself in your own language, but because we are going to the U.S. we want to practice the language as well as the procedures,” said Leonardo. “We wanted to compare our experience with your experience, and to improve our knowledge and implement our procedures together.”

Friday ended the exchange with a lessons learned discussion, and the hopes of building on the week’s foundation with further partnership possibilities in the future.

“(These exchanges) usually result in something way bigger than ourselves,” said Rutland. “It’s really great to be a part of it at the tactical level and to interface and integrate with people. I think that’s the big takeaway for me, personally and professionally: to be a part of that human factor.”