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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Survival Bootcamp

At the military's top-secret survival school, Air Force crews learn how to escape their worst-case scenario — shot down behind enemy lines. With the highest level of access ever granted to a journalist, our scout learns how to escape when Mother Nature is only one of your worries.

by: Brian Mockenhaupt

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5
Survival Bootcamp (Michael Hanson)
Survival Bootcamp (Michael Hanson)
Concealing Themselves (Michael Hanson)
Concealing Themselves (Michael Hanson)
Edible Plants (Michael Hanson)
Edible Plants (Michael Hanson)
Rootball and Branch Shelter (Michael Hanson)
Rootball and Branch Shelter (Michael Hanson)
Magnesium Started Fire (Michael Hanson)
Magnesium Started Fire (Michael Hanson)
Rescue Helicopter (Michael Hanson)
Rescue Helicopter (Michael Hanson)
Killing and Skinning a Snake (Michael Hanson)
Killing and Skinning a Snake (Michael Hanson)
Plotting Day's Movement (Michael Hanson)
Plotting Day's Movement (Michael Hanson)
Calling in for Help (Michael Hanson)
Calling in for Help (Michael Hanson)

In the morning, we start the evasion phase, and the Kaniksu National Forest transforms into Limnadia, a fictional country that has started a war with its fictional neighbor, Adlene. And, as an Adlene ally, the United States has gone to war. Flying a mission over Limnadia, we’ve been shot down, and are on the run.

Just after dawn, a lanky man wearing khaki pants and a blue check shirt walks down the road, sees us, and bounds our way in long, deliberate strides. “Put your hands up,” he shouts. “You guys Americans?”

“You’re on my land,” he says, pacing back and forth, agitated. “You Americans are worth a lot of money. They’re looking for you and said they’d give me $5,000 per head.”

Brooks tells him he has something of more value, and shows him a “blood chit,” a note printed in multiple languages (first carried by aircrews in World War II) that promises a reward for assistance—in this case by providing us shelter and safe passage, or just ignoring our presence. With far more civilians than enemy fighters on today’s battlefields, this scenario is quite likely.

In past wars, locals have been given large cash rewards and even U.S. citizenship for helping service members in distress. As an Army infantryman, I carried a real blood chit during the invasion of Iraq. Fortunately, it stayed folded in a pocket. The Limnadian is suspicious, but intrigued. “I’ll check this out. If it works, I’ll help you,” he says. “If not, it won’t be too hard to find you.”

On a map, he points out an area several miles away that Limnadian forces never patrol. If we were really on the run, we’d surely regard his offer with skepticism but, for the training scenario, we take him at his word. (The last downed airman to be in this situation didn’t have much choice, either.

When Air Force Capt. Tyler Stark ejected from his F-15 over Libya last March in the first hours of the air war, he injured his knee so badly on landing that he couldn’t run. Libyan rebels soon found him, though Stark didn’t know if they could be trusted. Fortunately, they could.) We quickly plot a route and are on our way, up and down through steep drainages and skirting ridgelines on 30 percent grades and steeper, without a trail to be seen. We stumble over lattices of fallen trees and logging slash.

For high-threat areas, where detection is more likely, we use the caterpillar technique to avoid detection. From a hole-up site, the first man moves about 50 feet, gets in place, and gives a thumbs up, starting a chain reaction that cycles through the group as each man advances. This is slow going—moving a mile could take well over an hour—but safer than just trudging through the woods.

At dusk we link up with the landowner, who provides a safe place to camp. Trust rewarded. Blackmon divides our seven-man element in two for the next day’s evasion—smaller groups are less noticeable—then he leaves, finished teaching. Now we’re on our own, and he’ll be one of the enemy, hunting us.


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Walt
Jun 15, 2013

1967: Orders to 'Nam, but not until a few weeks of evading a tough-as-nails SEAL crew who taught us to "Suck it up. It is what it is." Gave us each a 10-inch piece of nylon line and a safety pin... nothin' else. Yup, this squid with a Top Secret clearance got his taste of reality. Best part: I never forgot those lessons learned. Made me a better man to this day. My heart still beats hard in appreciation of those guys who more than earned their gold Trident. Teamwork and brotherhood. God Bless them, each and every one.

Star Star Star Star Star
dave
Jun 15, 2013

fantastic read. my brother went through a similar school in Maine I can understand why the last part of the story was left out and you should consider yourself very lucky. lets just say that Happy Valley is not so happy. cool read THANKS

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

Egads man! too much java! got to slowdown and get the facts straight! so he tried escape, and didn't make it, whew, got it now I think...

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

whoops, how about that, it's the same guy! lol, my bad, glad to hear he escaped gonna have to read this, thanks google!

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

um, might wanna check your facts, read a recent Rolling Stone article about an Army deserter who was captured in AFGN, I believe that would still make him a POW.

Brett
Oct 19, 2012

Great story!

Brett
Oct 19, 2012

Great story!

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