Senior Airman Brian Youngberg has jumped out of a moving aircraft 55 times and counting, and it never gets any easier.
“It scares me every time,” he says.
Youngberg, 26, is no adrenaline junkie, but he’s a passionate teacher. So for his students’ sake, he braves every helicopter parachute jump with a smile on his face. He’s a member of the 22nd Training Squadron at Fairchild, home to the U.S. Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school. There, he’s tasked with teaching young airmen how to survive in the wilderness should, say, their planes go down in combat.
NAME: Senior Airman Brian Youngberg
JOB TITLE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) field training instructor
EMPLOYER: Fairchild Air Force Base
YEARS ON THE JOB: 3
EDUCATION: SERE Specialist Training
HOURS/WEEK: Varies: 40 hours a week; plus up to 17 hours in the field
His students spend one week on base, learning, among other things, how to butcher and preserve meat; tie hitchings, knots and lashings; and build shelters in simulated arctic, tropical, desert and forest environments. After that, they head 70 miles north to the mountains in the Colville and Kaniksu national forests, where students receive hands-on survival training. Youngberg can’t reveal too many specifics. SERE specialists have to keep much of training a secret in order to maintain an element of surprise.
“The possibilities of what could change are ultimately endless,” he says. “We want to avoid them thinking it’s a camping trip.”
The training includes survival medicine, food and water procurement, camouflage techniques and how to deal with the psychological stress of isolation. Some of these kids, Youngberg says, have never seen snow or lived outside of a city. The course certainly isn’t fun, but it equips young airmen with, as he puts it, “the skills and confidence to return with honor.”
In the field, he’s sure to remind them not to lose hope if they ever find themselves scared and alone, trapped behind enemy lines.
“People are looking for you,” Youngberg says. “You do your part and remember, everyone else is doing their part. It’s going to work out somehow.”