The SERE specialty combined the skills Howell already possessed, with extreme mental and physical demands, promised plenty of excitement and, best of all, could save lives. SERE specialists prepare aircrew and high risk of capture DOD personnel to survive under any conditions. SERE Specialists train over 6,500 aircrew members a year in the proper use of principles, techniques, equipment, and procedures necessary to survive anywhere in the world.
“I got to a point where I could come back into the service. My children are old enough that I can leave home. And I wanted to try something exciting along the lines of what I do in civilian life,” said now-Senior Airman Joel Howell, who served four years on active duty in the Air Force nearly 20 years ago, explaining his decision to dive back into military life.
Not many can argue with his explanation though many may question his choice of career fields. You think the service’s revised fitness requirements present challenge’s for many Reservists, who generally are “more mature” than their active duty counterparts, consider the SERE requirements. They’re formidable.
When he first spoke to the recruiter and learned about the physical demands of his new specialty he hooked up with the security forces personnel at a Marine Corps Logistics Base near his southeast Georgia home. The EMT works out with them three times a week. Plus he runs every morning. Also, as public safety worker he’s required to maintain an advanced level of fitness. He admits that although he stays in shape year round being in ‘SERE shape’ requires additional effort.
“My first test when I get out there (Fairchild AFB, Wash., site of the SERE school) is to swim 750 meters non stop, then I get a 30 minute break and run 3 miles at a 7:30-minute pace, then I’ll have to 42 push ups, 50 sit ups, 10 pull ups and finish up with a 5-mile trek carrying a 95-pound pack so “I’m having to work a little harder to build up to that,'” the Airman said.
Having already completed the 17-day basic aircrew survival course and the ??-day water survival training, an Indoctrination class at Lackland in August awaits Airman Howell, followed by a permanent change of station move in October to Fairchild AFB, Wash., home of the SERE school. He’ll undergo “three months of classroom instruction at Fairchild, followed by six months in the field going through the different phases of training, capped by six months back in the field teaching – then I get to come home.”
Fortunately for him, the pace won’t slacken at home. The 908th has been looking for a SERE specialist for some time so his completion of training and return to the unit is eagerly anticipated. “AFRC has only a few SERE instructors, so they are spread very thin and have a high ops tempo and deployment rate,,” said Master Sgt. Keith Britt, superintendent of the 908th Operations Support Flight’s intelligence branch where Howell has been assigned since last February.
While the Airman’s return is eagerly anticipated, Sergeant Britt realizes that the waiting isn’t over yet. Airman Howell still has to complete “the most physical training in the wing.” A good case could be made that SERE training is perhaps the most demanding in the Air Force.
Intel branch chief Maj. Chris Anderson is eager to put the 908th AW’s first Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape Instructor to work as well but he, too, notes that the EMT has a lot of work in store.
“He still has to complete an intense six months SERE specialist training course at Fairchild AFB, Wash. before he is fully certified. In this course he will learn how to survive and instruct others how to survive in desert, artic, jungle, open ocean, coastal, rough terrain, combat, and captivity environments. Senior Airman Howell will be a member of an elite group of Department of Defense experts on survival issues,” the major said.
Once Airman Howell navigates that hurdle and completes his training he’ll “manage the SERE training program for 357th Airlift Squadron and the 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron aircrews to include providing High Risk of Capture training–to ensure aircrews are prepared to survive, evade, resist, and escape if they are ever downed in hostile territory, peace time governmental issues training, and hostage scenario training,” the intel branch chief said.
AFRC has less than a handful of SERE instructors so Senior Airman Howell will be called upon to train other units throughout the command. That’s good news, Airman Howell said.
“I really enjoy teaching. I teach search and rescue and navigation in the civilian world . Being able to come in and share some of my knowledge – that’s exciting. That’s right up my alley. I couldn’t have picked a better shop or unit to be assigned. They’re high speed.”
He knows he’ll get lots or work, too.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve already had other units requesting me to come even though I haven’t completed formal training yet. I’ll get plenty of use. I’ll make up for lost time,” the budding SERE specialist said.
Like many who serve the single parent said he’s grateful for his family’s support; his children will stay with his parents while he completes training.
“They’re excited, too. They realize ‘Daddy has been there for them’ so they’re excited that I’m getting a chance to do something I wanted to do. They’ve been very supportive.”