The Coast Guard & Air Force partnership: A tradition of training for more than 44 years

Coast Guard District 13 Newsby Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

ASTORIA, Ore. — The success of United States Coast Guard missions depends largely on the experience and expertise of our members. Sometimes, Coast Guard missions and missions of other U.S. armed services overlap, providing the opportunity to share our knowledge and capabilities. The United States Air Force has called upon the experience and expertise of the men and women at Coast Guard Station Tillamook Bay, in Garibaldi, Ore., for 44 years.

Coast Guard Station Tillamook Bay and other 13th Coast Guard District assets have been working with the Air Force to train airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base (AFB), Wash., twice a year since September, 1967.

Airmen attending the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Specialist Training (SST) School, come to Garibaldi to undergo the open water portion of the six month technical training program required of all potential SERE Specialists. Successful completion of the course prepares future SERE Specialists to instruct any Air Force SERE related program and be world-wide deployable.

The Air Force relies on the Coast Guard for expertise in open water transportation, recovery and overall safety.

Coast Guard motor lifeboat crews transport airmen and their instructors to the open ocean. They are required to jump overboard, wearing dry suits to maintain body temperature in the frigid water. Instructors deploy life rafts and airmen and instructors climb inside. They spend six hours afloat in the open ocean, learning first-hand the harsh realities of survival at sea.

Motor lifeboat crews generate wake in the absence of heavy natural swells, simulating the often tumultuous seas off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

For the final stage of the open water portion of SST, Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews hoist the airmen from the water, simulating an aerial rescue at sea.

On Sept. 14, 2011, Coast Guard Cutter Terrapin out of Bellingham, Wash., helped Station Tillamook Bay provide a suitable training environment for the Air Force by remaining on scene with the airmen as they floated in life rafts.

Motor lifeboat crews from Station Tillamook Bay transported airmen and trainers to and from the open ocean.

Lt. Col. Jeremiah Monk, Commander of the 66th Training Squadron responsible for running the SST school at Fairchild AFB was excited about not only the training that day, but the training tradition that the Air Force has shared with the Coast Guard.

“We had yet another excellent training experience, due in no small part to the United States Coast Guard support received from both Station Tillamook Bay and Cutter Terrapin,” stated Monk. “SERE has been working with Tillamook for 44 years. That duration stands testament to not only the consistently outstanding training conditions for SST, but also largely to the world-class support provided by the men and women of Station Tillamook Bay.”

As head of the SST school, Monk recognizes dangers posed by treacherous environments all over the world. He commends the Coast Guard’s ability to successfully operate in one of the most dangerous: the open ocean.

“Open water training is one of ten training periods in the course, but because of the inherently hostile environment, it is arguably our most complex and dangerous training phase. We mitigate that risk by our close working relationship with the Coast Guard.”

Monk stated that in addition to the training, his airmen gain a valuable experience by watching Coast Guard crews operate assets in the field.

“As a side benefit, the partnership also allows us an opportunity to showcase the USCG to our young airmen, most of whom have no experience working with our sister services,” added Monk. “Our trainees had the exceptional opportunity to be aboard as our Coast Guard Tillamook Bay partners were diverted to escort six civil vessels back to safe harbor amidst a quickly-developing weather situation. After seeing the case first-hand, I speak for all my men in saying we have a new-found appreciation for all the Coast Guard does for our country and our citizens, day in and day out.”

Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Saindon, Commander of Station Tillamook Bay, is proud his station has played such a longstanding role in ensuring defense readiness in conjunction with the Air Force.

“We are extremely proud to be able to work with the Air Force in providing survival training for combat situations,” gleamed Saindon. “For 44 years Station Tillamook Bay has played a key role in the training, thus a critical role in national defense. Our location provides an excellent training environment and our personnel provide the expertise required to operate within it.”

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