NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — U.S. Air Force survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists of the 414th Combat Training Squadron trained to create a team of six, or an Ultra Team, in preparation for the Ragnar Relay Las Vegas event held Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, in Las Vegas.
The relay starts at the top of the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort at Mount Charleston and through locales of the Las Vegas area including parks in Summerlin, Nev., the Red Rock Canyon and Lake Las Vegas. In an Ultra Team, six team members ran different legs of the race to complete the courses 187 miles.
The 414th CTS SERE relay team consisted of Tech. Sgt. Ryan Wilkerson, his wife Tiffany Wilkerson, Staff Sgt. Robert Miner, Staff Sgt. Matthew Greer, Staff Sgt. Paul Merck and Staff Sgt. Derek Owens. The team also consisted of volunteers to include Airman 1st Class Sylvia Owens, Airman 1st Class Edwin Rodriguez and Airman Joselyn Dufresne, all assigned to the 414th CTS. Staff Sgt. Brandon Pirmann, 414th CTS, supported the team as a driver during the full duration of the race.
Each member of the relay team completed from 24 to 36 miles during the event and thanks to Tiffany’s experience in health and fitness, they were able to accomplish such a number of miles per person.
“One of our biggest saviors during the training is Tiffany Wilkerson, one of the members of our team,” Greer said. “She is a health and wellness coach and a personal trainer. She is the one who actually came up to us and said ‘hey guys, this is what we need to do to get ready for the actual race.”
Thanks to Tiffany’s training plan, 414th CTS SERE team members began running on a training plan. The training would prepare them for the challenges the Ragnar Relay Las Vegas event, a 187 mile long course, would present.
“We came up with a running schedule, running five to six days out of the week,” Miner said.
“Throughout the week we ran from three to seven miles during the day and then we would have a three a day run on the weekend, ramping up the miles as we neared the event. We had one day off on the weekend.”
The race consisted of 5,370 runners divided into teams of twelve, or in the 414th CTS SERE team’s case, a team of six. All team members were required to finish different legs of the race.
“They have thousands and thousands of people who come out for this,” Miner said. “It’s a cool concept to get together with a team and run beyond your traditional marathon or half marathon.”
With a team goal to place first in the Ultra Team standings, members of the 414th CTS SERE team had to overcome certain obstacles to realize their goal.
“My first run near the Northwest part of Las Vegas [proved difficult],” Greer said. “It wasn’t the hills or the elevation that was the problem, it was the stop lights. That was the worst [obstacle] because during my first run I was getting in the groove and starting to pass people and then you would come to a stop light.”
By having to wait at stop lights, Greer explained that his team would lose time and he or another teammate would have to make up for it later in the race.
“Once we got out of the city and away from stop lights near the Red Rock Hotel and Casino, the route was long and dark,” Greer said. “It was peaceful.”
As day turned to night, and night to early morning the race became more challenging.
“The reason why it was hard for me was because the first four and a half miles was all uphill,” Greer said. “I’m already tired, already smoked and I am attempting to rehydrate myself. The sun was just coming out so it was hot.”
Team members were able to rest between their respected running times but as the race continued and early morning arrived, Miner and Greer recall the team beginning to feel their first signs of exhaustion and mental fatigue.
Runners were able to get help from teammates during their relay. Team mates who weren’t running would follow in a van and were able to assist the running team member by supplying water and food.
“As soon as my teammates gave me water I said to myself ‘O.K. I can do it.’” Greer said.
“As the sun came up we started to get our second wind,” Miner added.
After completing the race, the 414th CTS SERE team was exhausted and the accomplishment of finishing the race in first place for Ultra Teams didn’t quite set in. Placing first in the Ultra Teams meant that they were able to finish faster than 391 other runners, finishing in 24 hours and 18 minutes and eleventh place overall amidst 431 teams total.
“The excitement came the next day after we got a good night sleep,” Miner said. “Right when Greer crossed the last leg at the finish line nobody was really thinking about how much fun we had had. But ‘as hard as that was [we] would do it again.’”
Greer provided two words that best describe what someone would need to finish a challenge similar to the Ragnar Relay Las Vegas.
“Commitment and drive,” Greer said. “Someone who is presented with a challenge and has the fortitude to commit themselves 100 percent and drive forward to completion, someone who can push through the toughness and elements both mentally and physically.”
According to Greer, commitment and drive should come naturally for most SERE specialists.
“This is something that was instilled in all SERE specialists throughout training and our career,” Greer said. “When times are tough do not quit, but find a solution and move forward.”