FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - When the son of a Martinez woman reports to class, he's not asked to bring a calculator, a protractor or Cliff notes, and he doesn't have to worry about going through metal detectors to get to his classroom.
Instead, Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel R. Gerry, the son of Marilynn Gerry, Brookfield Parkway, Martinez, brings in knives, camouflage face paint and first aid kits. And the school lunch on any given day could include rabbit eyes, ants, worms insect larvae or other creepy crawlies gathered in Mother Nature's all-you-can-eat buffet.
Gerry is working to become a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist and instructor at the U.S. Air Force Survival School here, and he doesn't care whether the students know geometry, proper English or what the Louisiana Purchase was - he just wants them to leave his school with the skills and knowledge they need to survive if they find themselves downed behind enemy lines or isolated in harsh conditions.
Students at the school are primarily Air Force aircrew members, but members of other services and airman in other career fields also attend. The goal is the same for all of them - learning to stay alive under the most difficult of circumstances.
"I am preparing to teach the survival techniques, and escape and evasion to aircrew members," said the 1996 graduate of Lakeside High School. "Right now, I'm learning to be an expert in the many different subjects that I'll be teaching in the future."
The school is home to 250 to 350 survival instructors in the entire Air Force. The 366th Training Group that oversees the school also operates parachute and water survival training in Pensacola, Fla., and Arctic survival training in Alaska.
Gerry said the school's work is crucial in this day and age - more than 170 service members have been rescued inside Afghanistan alone since 2001.
"This mission is one of education to prepare people to handle worst-case scenarios in which survival and evasion could be their primary concerns. I will provide them the skills they will need to return home, with honor," he said.
After hands-on and classroom instruction on things like global survival skills, water survival, building shelters, crafting fires, survival medicine, land navigation skills, vectoring helicopters, recovery procedures, and combat evasion and survival skills, the students are put to the test in the elements.
After a few days with instructors in the woods, the students are left to their own designs with only the supplies and equipment they can carry on their backs - the same provisions they could expect to have if they were shot down behind enemy lines. Then they have to show off their new evasions skills by navigating through the woods undetected to a final checkpoint.
And even if the students are successful in remaining undetected, they're captured anyway - blindfolded and taken off to what many consider the most difficult and definitely the most intense part of the entire school - resistance training. The school staff locks down students in a a compound to simulate being in an enemy prisoner-of-war camp. They're then treated just about the way they would be if they were ever captured, with the goal being to show the students that they can survive in that type of environment.
"This school subjects aircrew members to the exact same things they'd experience in a real-world survival scenario," Gerry said. "It's designed to give them the knowledge and experience they'll need to make it through the worst scenarios and also gives them increased confidence in themselves and their Air Force."
Though Gerry's version of school supplies and lunch fare are a tad unconventional, so are the students' graduation prizes - a degree in staying alive, and the knowledge that they can live off the land and resist the enemy's best if ever captured.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.