Female SERE instructor at Fairchild 'teaches the guys'
By Tech. Sgt. J.T. May III, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 06, 2011
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- As the sun ascends on a cold, dismal morning in Colville National Forest, Wash., it marks the beginning of a 14-hour day for this senior airman.
It has been snowing and raining for the past three days making the ground a wet, soggy, mud ice mixture. The temperature is slowly approaching the low 30's and the humidity gives the cool crisp air added moisture. The average person would get broken down mentally if they have to spend days in this austere environment, but not Senior Airman Charlene Plante, 22nd Training Squadron, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE, instructor. She's smiling from ear to ear because she's eager to begin the day's instruction and feels right at home in these conditions for weeks at a time.
'She's a very motivated and organized person who has a passion for the job," said Master Sgt. Travis Butikofer, flight chief for Charlie Flight, "She has the leadership ability and integrity that we need as SERE specialists."
It's March 13, training day two for these seven students -- Airmen who are future pilots, navigators or aircrew members. Today, they gather around the senior airman only one of two female instructors. She tells them the day's agenda without wearing a jacket despite the frigid temperatures: improvised shelters, triangulation, fire building, map reading, building and helicopter vectoring. Airman Plante's attitude is upbeat and contagious, which transcends to her students who prepare to set their sights on another rigid day of SERE training.
The Springville, Maine, native grew up building tree forts, hunting and playing in the woods located by her house. Her immense love for the outdoors played a pivotal role in her future as a SERE specialist.
Growing up she always knew she wanted a military life that would offer challenges, but didn't always know it would be in the Air Force. She recalls watching a Marine Corp documentary with her cousin, when she was younger and became intrigued by it. "I believed I was joining the Marines until my dad told me either Navy or Air Force," said Airman Plante.
When it came time to talk with an Air Force recruiter, she was given the opportunity of being a crew chief. The job offer wasn't adventurous enough. After the recruiter learned about her hobbies and what she liked to do, he suggested she join to be SERE instructor.
Airman Plante didn't think twice about choosing a career field that's not for the feign of heart or dominated by men. Since the 1950's, only about 12 to 14 women have successful passed the training to become certified SERE instructors. Nor the odds or grueling physical requirements didn't deter Airman Plante. The Air Force offered her the chance to do something she loved, which sweetened the deal.
Before becoming an instructor, those who become instructors must first complete the course they teach before enrolling in a six month SERE specialist training (SST) program. This is one of the most physically and mentally demanding technical schools in the Air Force. The 5-foot, 3-inch Airman starting making a name for herself by keeping up with her male counterparts in the field as well as the rigorous regiments. "
She is the best woodsman, my most dependable troop and one of the sharpest SERE specialist," said her supervisor Staff Sgt. Alan Morse.
Airman Plante is just shy of her three year mark and has already gained the respect of her peers by having a great work ethic, drive and dedication to physical fitness.
Though she's not decided at this time if she'll retire, She says she's taking things one enlistment at a time. "Whenever I have a 14 or 15 hour day, I think about all the people I have met that make this job rewarding.
"I'm a SERE Specialist in the U.S, Air Force. How cool is that?," said Airman Plante.