Call to duty: a passion for the isolated person

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jenna A. Bond

“Growing up as a military child, I always knew I would end up enlisting eventually.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Rogers is assigned to the 31st Operations Support Squadron where he is the noncommissioned officer in charge of survival, evasion, resistance and escape training. He grew up with a father who was a 30 year explosive ordinance disposal Chief Master Sgt. in the United States Air Force, but Rogers interests lied in personnel recovery.

“I chose to pursue SERE because it aligned with all my personal passions,” explained Rogers. “I enjoy teaching, outdoor sports and spending time in nature.”

The mission of the SERE career field is to equip individuals with essential survival skills, first aid and crucial hostile environment tactics, techniques and procedures. They train and teach aircrew evasion skills and how to posture and prepare for potential captivity and interrogations.

The SERE specialist training apprentice course has various phases including core skills, navigation, instruction techniques, environmental training and combatives. This training has a relatively low retention rate, with Roger’s class only being around 15%.

“I would argue that SST-AC is not challenging in a traditional military course sense,” explained Rogers. “While there are physical standards and days filled with more push-ups than one could imagine, the true test lies in mental strength, which determines a student's success.”

Key reasons for student failure or dropout from this course includes sleep and food deprivation as well as task saturation.

“There were instances during training when my teammates and I went without sleep for over 96 hours due to the numerous objectives that needed completion, leaving us with only one choice: complete them or fail,” said Rogers.

The core survival skills phase is the initial phase where the most Airmen tend to quit or fail, but Rogers’ class had an additional challenge when it came to this phase due to the brutal winter elements.

“Around 3 a.m., as we reinforced our shelters, a storm with 40 mph winds, hail and snow hit, dropping the temperature to about -19 degrees Fahrenheit and that’s when the inner voice began rationalizing and questioning, urging us to quit,” explained Rogers. “Instead, we knocked it out, securing our shelters and sitting together around a raging fire, sharing jokes and laughter despite the awful conditions.”

Rogers went on to say they all understood if they could just get through this ordeal then eventually the rest would fall into place.

“Through experiencing these challenges firsthand, we can speak with authority and understanding, drawing from our own experiences rather than relying solely on what we've read in books or online.”

These hardships allow for SERE specialists to better execute their mission: advocate for the isolated person.

“The most rewarding part of what I do as a SERE specialist is that we are the advocates for the isolated personnel,” said Rogers. “The day an aircrew member becomes isolated in combat could very well be the worst day of their life, and potentially, the start of a very dangerous string of events.”