MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Eli Stokes, a survival evasion resistance and escape instructor assigned to the 169th Operations Group, is the [MacGyver] of the South Carolina Air National Guard.
“I give the pilots at McEntire adequate, realistic, SERE information and training, like how to operate their combat survival evader locator radios,” said Stokes.
A North Carolina native, Stokes joined the SCANG in 2017 so he could be closer to his family, after serving four years with active duty Air Force.
Each drill Stokes provides survival tactics, techniques and procedures with the pilots and other high-risk job specialties that may need one-on-one training or group training.
“Stokes hit the ground running. Upon his arrival, he immediately leveraged his SERE savvy to ready our pilots for future deployments,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Morehouse, the 169th Operations Group Intelligence Flight superintendent. “He's a high-energy, competent professional. We're happy to have him in the Swamp Fox community.”
Every time our fighter pilots fly, whether it’s for training or a deployed mission, they are equipped with survival gear.
“It’s important to have a SERE instructor in the Guard because we deploy as much as active duty,” said Stokes. “It’s important for our pilots to always be up to date on [SERE] training.”
Stokes reflects on how demanding the SERE selection process was. Of the 32 basic training candidates, only five graduated to move on to SERE selection technical school.
“The hardest part about the course was sleep deprivation,” said Stokes.
During training, Stokes endured dehydration, two hours of sleep per night for one week, and ate beetles, worms and cactus for subsistence. The flight was constantly on the move and the SERE trainees were tested on their learned skills to survive while being exposed to the elements of the wild.
“I lost about 20 pounds in a week from being on the move so much,” said Stokes. He chuckled at himself as he described how to brew fresh hot coffee using only a parachute.
During SERE Selection, Stokes became the team leader. He endured a three-week long course where he practiced survival tactics of navigation, shelter and fire building, food procurement, signaling and sewing.
After graduation, Stokes became a three-level SERE specialist and SERE instructor for “Charlie Flight” at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. He served the USAF there for the next three years before leaving active duty and moving on to the SCANG.
Stokes believes that continuous training is important for everyone who serves in the military or civilian life.
Stokes earned his associate’s degree in Survival Instruction through the Community College of the Air Force and earned his bachelor’s degree in Fire Safety and Engineering Technology. Currently a 9-1-1 operator, Stokes’ primary goal is to become a firefighter.