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Return with honor

Operations Group Airmen prepare to be evacuated while participating in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training June 2, 2018 at Alum Creek, W.Va.The Airmen completed a refresher version of the original SERE course, which is required every three years, to ensure that in case of emergency that they would have the competency to survive in numerous hostile conditions. (U.

130th Operations Group Airmen prepare to be evacuated while participating in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training June 2, 2018 at Alum Creek, W.Va.The Airmen completed a refresher version of the original SERE course, which is required every three years, to ensure that in case of emergency that they would have the competency to survive in numerous hostile conditions. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Vance)

MCLAUGHLIN AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, W.Va. -- Survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) Instructor training is one of the most difficult and extensive training programs in the United States Air Force. It’s designed to do one thing – save lives in the midst of a worst case scenario – and is exactly the reason Master Sgt. Bob Miner took on the challenge of earning the title, which he now uses to train West Virginia Air National Guard members as the only SERE specialist in the state.

The SERE motto is "Return with honor", and is what they base they're whole career off of: teaching members the skills to do just that.

SERE Airmen must endure nearly two years of ruthless training designed to shape them into experts in their career fields. After an initial six-month long school where, on average, only 10 percent graduate, each SERE specialist must complete more than 45 weeks of on-the-job training to complete their skill sets.

This training includes U.S. Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia; arctic training at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; water survival training in Pensacola, Florida; mountain training in Washington jungle training in Hawaii and even desert training in Nevada.

“This is a job you really have to earn. There is so much training that goes into this,” Miner said. “It is critical to be able to relay the skills and information you possess to the others and enable them to get themselves out of a bad situation.”

Training includes everything from land navigation, food and water procurement, shelter building, first aid, the military code of conduct, to shaping an Airman’s mentality that will be crucial for SERE operations in the worst of situations.

The U.S. Air Force is looked to as the subject matter experts for SERE training, and is the only service to operate a full, career-long SERE Specialist cadre.

It wasn’t long ago when the Air National Guard was required to rely on their active duty counterparts to train aircrew members who needed to be SERE qualified. When the National Guard Bureau approved 10 unit-level SERE Specialist positions for ANG Operational Support Squadrons in 2014, Miner took the opportunity to join the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston, West Virginia and began his transition from active duty. He chose the 130th AW for a simple reason, to be closer to his family in his home state of New York, and hasn’t looked back.

Since coming onboard, Miner has been providing the 130th AW’s aircrew, which consists of pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters and aeromedical evacuation personnel, with the most current training in local area survival, combat survival, conduct after capture, water survival and emergency parachute training. In addition to that, Miner also assists with unit-level personnel recovery responsibilities such as Isolated Personnel Report Program (ISO-PREP), evasion plans of action and individual issue personnel recovery kits.

The most challenging part of his transition was his arrival, he said, and being tasked with developing a SERE program at the 130th AW.

“It was a big learning curve for me, the Guard is just such a unique and different setting,” he explained. “Here we practically have 48 hours a month, not including the allotted training days every year, to get everyone qualified, on top of trying to realize that you’re only one priority on a huge list of the Commander’s readiness spectrum."

Miner’s reach just isn’t to the 130th AW though, he also gives a hand to units that don’t have the privilege of a SERE Specialist, as do fellow specialists from across the Air Guard. From the 130th AW’s “sister unit,” the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, to places as far away as Puerto Rico and Washington, Miner’s training has enhanced numerous units’ survival outcome.

“We don’t have a written agreement or anything, just when we have time, we help,” Miner said. “So many units don’t get the proper training since unqualified personnel have to give them what knowledge they can, and we have to try to fill those gaps.”

Miner has grown to appreciate his new home in West Virginia. Being an avid outdoorsman, he claims that he’s enjoyed discovering all that the state has to offer and that West Virginia would be the perfect setting for an east coast version of SERE School.

It is obvious that Miner takes pride in his career.

To Miner, his job isn’t just a day-in, day-out, nine-to-five job. It’s spending nights outside in the wilderness, traveling across the country and experiencing some of the most beautiful places the United States has to offer. More than anything, he said, it’s knowing that if something happened to the people he has trained, he could be the reason they make it back home safe.
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