MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Team Misawa’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape team saved a lone snowboarding Airman, after he took a wrong turn and found himself waist-deep in snow after sundown, Dec. 30, in the backcountry of the Hakkoda Mountains located in Northern Japan.
Although Staff Sgt. Matthew Stedge, a 35th Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew team chief, had 8 years of experience snowboarding around the globe, he suddenly learned the Hakkoda Mountains’ backcountry provided a different challenge.
“Initially, I was unsure how to get out of this situation,” he commented. “Realizing I was stuck evoked a small amount of fear in me.”
At 4 p.m., Stedge contacted the Aomori Japanese police, stating they wouldn’t be able to rescue him until the next morning. Worried, he gave his two troops his GPS coordinates in hopes of being found as quickly as possible.
It wasn’t long before Tech. Sgt. Jason Allchin and Staff Sgt. Kevin Zamora, both 35th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialists, jumped into action and figured out the best method to retrieve Stedge from the mountain.
“After receiving the notification, I quickly met with our SERE specialists to develop a plan for providing assistance,” said. Lt. Col. David Madson, the 35th OSS commander. “Our SERE Airmen volunteered to rescue him without hesitation after learning local teams could not make an attempt to reach him until early next morning,.”
Once Allchin and Zamora received a call about a lost Airman on the mountains, they quickly assessed the situation.
“We took into account the weather conditions and terrain, then put it together to analyze if he would be fine to survive overnight,” said Zamora. “While communicating with Stedge, he would tell us his battery life was quickly dropping and we thought, ‘man, we really have to find this guy.’”
Throughout their communications, Allchin and Zamora received three different GPS coordinates on Stedge’s location. Despite this, the SERE team set a middle route of where to go and compiled a game plan using their extensive training provided through the Air Force.
“It took nearly an hour and a half to locate the individual, but we assessed the terrain and found the easiest path to locate him,” said Zamora. “We conducted radio checks with command and control, both on base and at the base of the mountain, as well as ensuring we were equipped with the proper gear.”
Battling the frigid, rough elements and knowing the soonest possible rescue team was still 13 hours away, Stedge’s optimism took a hit as he began to get cold and wet in the waist deep snow.
Stedge commented on the relief he felt when SERE’s headlamps peered through the trees.
“They were very helpful,” said Stedge. “I told SERE my current condition; I wasn’t hurt but I couldn’t feel my feet after a couple of hours and they told me what to do to stay warm and regain feeling.”
The team contributed by not only rescuing him, but by teaching Stedge how to prevent this dangerous situation from happening again and how he can help others not end up in the same boat.
“They didn’t have to go up there on their four day weekend,” said Stedge. “I’m definitely thankful to those guys, as well as everyone that came together [to make this happen].”
Col. Jason Cockrum, the 35th Operations Group commander, also expressed his gratitude for the faithfulness of his wingmen.
“It’s moments like this that make me extremely proud to be an American Airman,” Cockrum said. “The Airmen’s Creed talks about ‘never leaving a fellow Airmen behind.’ That night, Allchin and Zamora demonstrated our Core Values. I am very proud of them and the professionalism and discipline with which they executed the rescue.”