SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — Pilots from the 52nd Fighter Wing attended Combat Survival Training (CST) here Jan. 26-27. Sometimes a pilot's mission to fly, fight and win takes an unexpected turn. An enemy surface-to-air missile or aircraft malfunction may force the pilot out of the relatively safe cockpit, placing them on the ground and in hostile territory, and this training is used to prepare them for such occasions.
CST is a refresher course designed to re-familiarize pilots with skills they were taught in basic survival training courses prior to their first operational flying assignment. Although the basic course is a 17-day program that runs the gamut of hunting, hiking, evading and applying the code of conduct in a simulated prisoner of war camp, the CST program is a fast-paced two-day course that incorporates new tactics, training and procedures that weren't utilized during the basic course. The goal of both courses are identical - to provide pilots the skills to return home with honor.
The CST course consists of two phases. Day one is devoted to academics training, which covers combat medical procedures, sustenance, protection from the environment, navigation and signaling techniques, and how to evade, resist and escape from enemy forces. On day two, the pilots travel to the Gerolstein Bundeswehr range, about 35 miles northwest of Spangdahlem Air Base, for operational training. During the operational training, pilots are challenged to meet their basic survival needs while evading to a recovery site.
The training is far from a walk in the park. In addition to contending with Germany's notoriously unpredictable weather and thickly forested terrain, they face being hunted by aggressors. The 52nd Operations Support Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists manage all aspects of the program, but for the operational portion, they get help. Other Griffin intelligence and aircrew flight equipment specialists are more than willing to add to the team effort in the role of opposing forces, who, along with Bundeswehr soldiers, make the day as realistic as possible.
To add to the pilot's arsenal, they are provided hands-on training with the equipment they fly within the area of responsibility, which is particularly useful for communication with recovery forces. The SERE specialists talk to the pilots on survival radios, giving instructions to keep them moving to their recovery site. As darkness sets in, movement becomes more challenging for the pilots, but so does the aggressors' ability to find them. The pilots are equipped with night-vision scopes to increase the odds of success.
CST culminates with recovery. As the pilots approach their recovery site, a simulated special operations team apprehends them and ensures they are correctly identified by use of an isolated personnel report that was filled out on day one. Once complete, it's back to the cockpit for the pilots with a renewed confidence until they will return in three years for another refresher.
Lt. Col. Shaun McGrath, 52 OSS commander, described the squadron's CST program for the wing's pilots as "the most realistic and comprehensive combat survival training I've had in my 18 years in the Air Force." The level of realism, from enemy troops with AK-47s to Special Operations teams lurking in the woods, forces pilots to get in character and practice the classroom lessons, he said. Without the practical application, the only time they would use these learned skills would be during actual combat scenarios; far from ideal. Should they have a mishap in the air, the CST course arms pilots with the skills necessary to return to friendly forces with honor.