The Life of a Cone series follows an AFSPECWAR trainee through his pipeline schools and provides real world experiences at some of the DoD’s most coveted schools.
The Survival Experience
This course is very sensitive due to the material being taught. That said this is a gist of an experience while keeping Operational Security (OPSEC) a top priority.
Our team went during winter time after Thanksgiving. It was the coldest weather some of us had ever experienced. There was one point during the night that we hit -13 degrees.
The first segment of training consisted of death by classroom power points with different types of training scattered here and there. It’s like sipping through a firehose but that doesn’t negate the importance of the material being taught.
Day one they pulled Special Warfare airman aside after one of the briefs to let us know they had issues in the past with people of our AFSCs and wanted us to police one another. There’s a trend our group noticed that at school houses that instruct multiple AFSCs and braches that Special Warfare Airman are held to a higher standard and we should be.
Throughout training there were no issues until two individuals in the class were not only late but had an alcohol smell on them. Don’t show up to class drunk please, they ended up getting kicked out the next day after reporting to squadron commander so it was a bad time. There was also a knuckle head who decided to bring a communication device into an area that they are prohibited. Listen, they have devices that go off in the event there are electronic devices nearby so don’t get removed for stupid reasons. Aside from that though the days were long there was great information all of us learned.
Surviving Field Phase
People usually hear about training stories from the field when it comes to this course. In the field, AFSPECWAR cones usually get thrown into our own element so expect your experience to be different from the rest of the class. Day one we rucked a lot further distance through a bit more difficult terrain which was fine but we had two pilots in our group. They were pissed about being teamed up with Special Warfare guys because they knew we would have to endure a bit more than the normal elements out there training. After a day or two they warmed up to us though.
At night we didn’t have to worry about wildlife because there were two guys whose snoring sounded like two freight trains in a fist fight so we knew all predators would stay away. The amount of food you are apportioned for the field is limited. Most of us didn’t even touch our MREs until more than halfway through the field portion so by the last couple nights we felt like we ate like kings. There was one or two guys who never even touched the food they were allowed!
There were nights that you wake up with snow covering your gear and most days where any gear you have was frozen so you had to chew to undo any knots. We were not allowed to have a big fire except the one night we got to eat the rabbit. One night it was so cold we borrowed some wood from an unspecified camp and built a big fire to thaw out gear and dry boots. We were there to learn survival so that’s what we were practicing.
The next morning our instructor came down with a breakfast burrito that everyone was staring at intently while he tried to give instruction. We negotiated terms with him and the next day our team constructed a reef out of pine needles, branches, rope, etc. that his wife later hung on their house door for the holidays in exchange for an extra burrito. It was delicious.
Toward the end there’s another part of SERE that everyone tries to give hints or prompts about to help. Don’t listen to anyone telling you what to expect. Take the experience as it comes. Everyone I ever asked agrees that at a minimum one or two moments during this training that will resonate with you and make you that much better should an actual SERE event ever occur.
- During time spent on base, the nearby gym is open outside of the hours posted on the door so ask someone who’s in a class before you how to enter. This allows you to get your workouts in before the duty day since the place sometimes seems monotonous.
- If going during the winter pack extra hand and feet warmers! You can live without them but put a couple in your pockets throughout the day or in your sleeping bag in the cold nights and they will be clutch.
- The hot chocolate by the front desk was voted by some (including me) as the best hot chocolate we have ever had. No joke, when you get there, try it out and let me know if you agree.
- In the second floor laundry room on east side of the hotel there is a big wall locker with boots people leave behind. Some of them look brand new and other people even leave field items they didn’t want so find someone with a room key (NCO or Officer) and grab what you want. I got a new pair of boots, fancy cargo pants and laundry detergent for the rest of my stay there.
- Girth hitch knots are the easiest to undo when frozen.
- If possible, collect running water for drinking. A couple of our guys collected stagnant water and even after the iodine pills they had the squirts the following day.
- When your socks get wet from water or sweat, put them down your pants leg, tie off at belt and after a couple hours they will be dry.
- Lastly, a well placed set of ear plugs can go a long way. You’re welcome.
For more information on Army Airborne, visit our AFSPECWAR forums (pipeline schools)