114th Airman pursues Air Force Special Operations

Senior Airman Cody Thaler, 114th Operations Intelligence specialist, poses with Capt. Ali Chinisaz, during field training at the combat survival training course in Colville National Forest, Wash., July 22, 2013. Thaler is pursuing an Air Force active duty position as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist. (Courtesy photo/Released)

Senior Airman Cody Thaler, 114th Operations Intelligence specialist, poses with Capt. Ali Chinisaz, during field training at the combat survival training course in Colville National Forest, Wash., July 22, 2013. Thaler is pursuing an Air Force active duty position as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist. (Courtesy photo/Released)

Senior Airman Cody Thaler, 114th Operations Intelligence specialist, attempts to navigate with his element of eight troops to a checkpoint during a combat survival training exercise at Colville National Forest, Wash., July 22, 2013. Thaler is pursuing an Air Force active duty position as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist. (Courtesy photo/Released)

Senior Airman Cody Thaler, 114th Operations Intelligence specialist, attempts to navigate with his element of eight troops to a checkpoint during a combat survival training exercise at Colville National Forest, Wash., July 22, 2013. Thaler is pursuing an Air Force active duty position as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist. (Courtesy photo/Released)

Sioux Falls, S.D. -- Senior Airman Cody Thaler, 114th Operations Intelligence specialist, is slated to join active duty Air Force and begin training to become a member of Air Force Special Operations as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist on March 3rd at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"I'm ready for a new challenge," said Thaler. "Intel has been great as a mental challenge but I think with SERE I would get the chance to get the best of both a mental and physical challenge."

Thaler, age 25, must earn his way into the SERE specialist training school, held in Fairchild AFB, Wash., by completing a three week selection course at Lackland AFB and pass the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST). The purpose of the PAST test is to assess a candidate's current physical condition for potential entry into the SERE specialist career field to become an instructor.

The test is comprised of several events and the candidate must meet minimum requirements in every event in order to pass. The events are as follows: surface swimming, 1.5 mile run, and pull-ups/sit-ups/push-ups. Each event is evaluated on specific time parameters and exercise form mechanics.

"I've done a lot of strength and endurance training over the years, so my main focus was to add more running and learn how to swim properly for the PAST," said Thaler. "The swim is only 200 meters, but being comfortable in the water and learning proper technique was probably the hardest part of training."

Thaler first became passionate about the career field by completing the combat survival training course (S-V-80) as a requirement for the Intelligence career field. The majority of trainees at the Air Education and Training Command USAF SERE School are Air Force aircrew members and intelligence personnel. It teaches 15 different courses to approximately 18,000 students at four locations annually. The schools mission is to provide at risk of isolation personnel with the skills and confidence to 'Return with Honor'.

"It was a unique challenge and a different type of training because it takes people out of their element," said Thaler. "You are actually learning how to survive under any condition should an aircraft go down. You have to learn how to get food and water and you aren't provided much at all."

While on a recent deployment to Southeast Asia, Thaler sought out the SERE specialists there and through that connection he was provided the opportunity to aid in a few personal recovery training exercises. He role played an isolated downed pilot so the aircrew from an A-10 Thunderbolt II could perform a rescue mission. He also played a similar role for open ocean water survival training where aircrew piloting a U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk performed a hoist rescue exercise while Thaler acted as a downed pilot stranded on a raft.

"A lot of those training exercises really appealed to me," said Thaler. "When I returned from Southeast Asia I was dead set on wanting to become a SERE specialist."

SERE Specialist Technical Training is a five and half month course consisting of 11 phases of training conducted in several different situations and environments. Upon completion, a SERE Specialist is an expert on the methods used to survive in the arctic, desert, open ocean, jungle, mountain regions, in-combat and captivity situations.

"I'm looking forward to the new challenge, and I definitely feel ready to take on this new adventure," said Thaler.

After successfully completing the training, SERE Specialists are ready to take their place as one of just over 400 SERE specialists in the Air Force.  SERE Specialist also earn the right to dawn the SERE Beret, SERE Specialist Arch, and the AETC Instructor badge.