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The ‘Cool School’ that trains the military’s top survival experts

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A few times every year, survival specialists from across the military flock to the “Cool School,” where they are indoctrinated in the frigid art of arctic survival.

The Cool School brings together the military’s top Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) specialists from across the country.

With temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit and winds as high as 50 miles per hour, the Cool School offers one of the toughest environmental conditions that can be found in military courses. But for a good reason. Cool School graduates will go on to teach special operators, pilots, and other high-risk personnel about arctic survival. 

The latest iteration of the Barren Land Arctic Survival training course, as the Cool School is officially known, took place in January in Barrow, Alaska.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jesse Cash, a 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 1 survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) specialist demonstrates how to cut out a block of hard-packed snow at Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska, Jan. 11, 2021, during the Cool School. The snow blocks were used to construct a wind-wall to shelter students’ tents during the first night of training. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt. Ryan M. Dewey)

Related: Frosted Misery: A Navy SEAL in SERE School

“It’s the experiential factor that enables Air Force SERE specialists to provide the highest standard of arctic training to the Department of Defense,” U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Garrett Wright, the 66th Training Squadron’s the Detachment 1 Arctic Survival School superintendent, said in a press release.

You know a course is hardcore when aside from an independent medical duty technician, which is pretty normal for a course, there are two Security Forces airmen on standby for medical emergencies and polar bear guard.

Cool School
Survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) specialists going through upgrade training stay over in tents at Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska, Jan. 13, 2021, during the Cool School. Prior to training in an arctic environment, the SERE students trained in coastal, desert and tropical biomes across the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt. Ryan M. Dewey)

Related: Night jumps and cracking ice: A true story of Green Berets in Alaska

“Our students have a unique opportunity to learn from the indigenous people, so they can come to a better understanding of the cultural influences that enabled them to survive in such a harsh region for thousands of years,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Tyler Williams, the 66th Training Squadron’s Detachment 1 commander.

“Before all of this modern equipment, it was the cultural values and practices that allowed them to thrive in this region. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best equipment or aircraft in the world. If you don’t have the right training, the Arctic environment will kill you.”

Lately, the Pentagon has been paying more attention to arctic warfare, and as a result, arctic survival, mainly because of the geopolitical competition that has been taking place around the Arctic Circle, and the natural resources it holds.

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This article was originally published 3/2/2021

Feature image: DoD photo

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.