Survival_Evasion (R. Jalomos)

It was about 9 am on a very cold December morning when me along with about 30 other individuals were dropped off by a school bus in the mountains north of Spokane, Washington, with rucksack full of survival gear, a few rabbits and limited water. Our goal was to survive 5 days stranded in the mountains, two of which were going to be evading the enemy, after receiving two weeks worth of specialized training in a classroom environment. The ground was covered in snow, what seemed like at least 3 feet deep. We were also in a forest however the tree density was not bad at all. There was plenty of walking room and the view was actually quite beautiful with the surrounding snow covered mountains, rivers and streams seen off in the distance from our point of view, everything covered in white, but the beauty of the scenery was bitter sweet knowing what was to come.

The first day out in the frigid wilderness was really not too bad. The day started out with some brief instruction on how to determine what was edible in the inevitability that we would run out of food during our training, and we also learned how to make a fire. These two skills were demonstrated first as these skills would keep us alive for the next five days. After our fire session the instructors brought us a couple of live rabbits to carry around with us. We were told “this is going to be your food for the next two days”. I had heard the stories about the killing of rabbits for food and the rumor was the they made one lucky person eat the eye balls right out of the rabbit's head, I was just hoping I wasn't going to be the person that would be chosen to do it. We carried along with us at all times a very large rucksack, weighing at least 35 lbs, containing our winter sleeping bag, extra pairs of clothing, toiletries, a few snacks, and extra boots. We also wore a survival vest which contained a compass, map, gps for emergencies, flashlight, matches, medkit, signal flares, signaling mirror, knife, knife sharpener, multi-tool and extra batteries.

Two people were chosen from our small group of 6 to move the rabbits with us as we hiked from our drop off point to our first base camp for the night. Along our first hike which was about 10 miles through the rough terrain, we received more hands-on land navigation training, which involved using only a scaled map of the area and a compass. Not to anyone's surprise, we over shot our destination by about a kilometer. Our instructor that was with us knew we past our target but let us continue just to prove a point. We ended up at the bottom of what looked like a 100 ft cliff. I remember thinking “this isn't right”, and that 's when the instructor stepped in and said, “I was gonna take you guys up the easy route, but you past right by it, now we go up this way”, as he pointed straight up this wall of dirt, snow and rock. I looked up and thought, he has got to be screwing with us. I soon realized this was not a joke. About half way up, I looked down to see how high we had climbed and immediately regretted looking, but I was able to see the top and thought I just got to make it a little further.

As I cleared the last step and pulled myself over the top edge, the feeling of relief went through my body and I quickly moved away from the edge. Another beautiful sight was to be seen from this vantage point, it was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. Seeing the wilderness from the top of a small mountain is an experience everyone should have. We moved about another 300 yards to opposite side of the edge we had just climbed which was where our base camp for the night was located. We created some makeshift tents out of tree branches and ponchos and slept in our very bulky sleeping bags.

The night temperature dropped down to at least between 0 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I have never experienced anything so miserable in my life, the worst part however was getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning. I think it was due to lying still and not keeping your body warm from the movement made it feel so much colder. The next two days followed a similar pattern of hike from one base camp to another base camp, getting some hands on training along the way and learning a few more handy survival skills and calling it night. On the fourth day we were to begin what our survival training was leading up and things got a lot more interesting. A new scenario came into play, evasion. In this simulation, we were all apart of a military aircraft that had just crash landed behind enemy lines. We had to move from our down site to our given extraction point or “EP” and we had to get there within 8 hours without being captured by the enemy. You can think of it like the biggest game of hide and go seek imaginable. The distance we had to move was about 5 miles. Now I know this sounds like it would not be too hard of a task, I thought the same thing, how hard could it be to get 5 miles in 8 hours? What I underestimated was the tactical movements and how slow you actually had to move. Moving too fast gets you caught.

Our small group split up into two separate three-man teams and headed off. There were no instructors with us this time, which made the event that much more exciting. We were given 30 minutes to move out before the enemy would start tracking us. We moved to what looked like a decent hideout, in the middle of some thick vegetation and planned our route to the EP. It took us about 3 hours to get about two and miles distance towards our EP. He had to move carefully, quietly, and only leaving as little tracks as possible, if any at all.

When moving in our three man team, we had to stay as low to the ground as possible and not extend out any limbs. A key feature that catches the human eye is the silhouette of an upside down “V”, like the shape made between your legs and arm pits. The upside down “V” is not a natural shape that occurs out the wilderness which is why it catches the eye so easily. Not paying attention and allowing your body to create this shape makes it very easy to get spotted from even a mile away. On top of moving low to the ground we also moved in a line formation about 10 meters at a time. We stopped for about 20 seconds every 10 meters to listen to hear if trackers following us. Even the snap of twig half a mile a way can be heard very easily.

I assume it is probably because the sound echoes off the trees and travels a great distance this way. At about 5 hours into our evading, we began hearing the distinct sound of feet steps breaking branches and crushing snow out in the distance. We were being tracked. We could not see the trackers and we could not even tell which exact direction they were coming from. It seemed the most likely that they were approaching from the rear so we began to pick up our pace. The next hour and half we were being chased by our unseen trackers. We finally made our last attempt to hide inside some thick bushes, but the trackers walked right up on us. We were captured.

I felt like I failed, I thought I understood how to do this that it would be easy to apply what was taught in the classroom. We were debriefed by our captures, who were also the instructors, on what we did right and what we did wrong and then released to continue on to the EP. We reached the EP not long afterword and moved to our base camp for the night.

The next day we had to do it all over again, but this the final day, at our EP was a warm bus back to base. This time we were at a different location with different boundaries and we only had 2 hours to get to the designated EP, but our distance was only 3 kilometers. This time, I was determined to make it without being captured, failure was not an option this day. After looking at the map of the area, something stood out. The area we were supposed to cross was chosen because the field was laid out almost as if it were designed for everyone to get captured. The area of play was about a 5 by 5 mile square with a mountain in the middle. The only way across seemed to be up and over. We immediately saw the intention in the design and decided we were take the long route and go completely around. We knew the enemy was gonna be at the top of that mountain. If they had the high ground to begin with, it would be easy pickings as everyone was coming up toward them.

This is exactly what happened, those that hastily climbed upward all got captured. Me and my two fellow evaders found ourselves on the side of a snow covered road that ran along the side of a valley. About 30 feet on the opposite side of the road was a very steep 50 ft drop into the valley. We had the bright idea of crossing over the road and traveling adjacent to the 50 ft drop. Who would think to look for us in a very dangerous part of the map? As I got near the edge of the drop, the snow slid out from under my feet like a small landslide. I went sliding toward the edge of the drop, my heart was racing and I stretched out my arm and caught a hand full of a very thick bush nearby. It was almost like a scene out of an action movie. I regained my footing and carried on toward our EP. Further down the road a snow tractor type vehicle that came into view. I looked off the side of the vehicle, about 30 to 40 meters up the side of the mountain, and I could see someone walking down toward the vehicle.

The three of us immediately hit the ground in an attempt to hide from the individual. My face was literally in the snow for about 30 minutes waiting for this individual to leave the area. I endured the freezing pain on side of my face because I was determined not to get captured. Finally he drove off and and I stood up feeling pretty good. I took a look at my watch and saw that we had 30 minutes left to get to our EP. Out of options we decided we were going to ditch the tactical movements and book it down the road to get where needed to be. We finally got to our EP and were greeted by a rescue team that moved us to out of the area and into the bus. The feeling of warmth after five days for living in the snow and freezing temperatures was indescribable. We were the last team to make it to the extraction point, but we were the only team that did not get captured that day.

There was more training events involved but his particular event was one of the most memorable. Everyone that wants to became an aircrew member has to go through this training to be accepted and looking back on it, it was actually pretty fun, but I would never want to go through that ordeal again.


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