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February 8, 2012

SERE School: Myths vs. Reality

SERE School sucks, no getting around it, no beating around the bush here.  It isn’t fun and isn’t meant to be.  That said, SERE is critically important training for any soldier who could find himself (or herself) trapped behind enemy lines, such as pilots and Special Operations personnel.  SERE stands for Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion.  During the three week block of instruction, you are trained on each of these skills.

The first week of SERE is the survival portion, in which you spend about a week living out in the woods getting classroom instruction and hands on training.  For those interested in this type of training, but unable to attend SERE, the curriculum is mostly based off of The SAS Survival Handbook by John “Lofty” Wiseman.  This would also be a good book for future SERE students to read and get a leg up on the course.  This way, you can have have your questions about the material ahead of time to ask the instructors once you get to SERE.

My favorite part of SERE was the Escape and Evasion or E&E training.  You can only imagine what this might entail.  As far as the Resistance part of the school, sorry, I can’t talk about that.  But let’s dispel a few myths while we are on this subject.  The last five or six days of the course consist of a field training exercise in which students have to apply all of their training.  What starts as an E&E scenario ends with the students getting captured and imprisoned in a mock POW camp.  So here are a few of my favorite misconceptions:

Myth #1: Instructors are allowed to break one bone in your body during the POW portion of SERE.  This is incorrect.  While in the detention facility, students are placed under some level of physical duress but this is closely monitored and supervised to ensure that it does not get out of control.  SERE is a very professionally run school and has to be for just this reason.

Myth #2: Students who graduate from SERE School come back crazy.  I never saw anything like this.  After the conclusion of SERE school, students are left alone in the barracks for 24 hours to help them decompress and catch up on some sleep.  Final briefings are also conducted with each student on this day as a part of performance counseling.  Students also receive psychological evaluations before participating in the school.  After we graduated the course, my friends and I went out for a steak dinner and beers, none the worse for wear.

Myth #3: SERE School is designed to break you.  If you can’t man up for a few days of field training, then maybe this is the wrong line of work for you.  SERE is a school that challenges your preconceptions.  It takes you outside your comfort zone as a soldier, but that doesn’t mean that they are trying to break you.  If you become a Prisoner of War for real, that experience isn’t going to be a cakewalk and SERE has to prepare you for that.

SERE School is broken into three levels, SERE-C is the “High-Risk” course that Special Forces soldiers are required to attend.  For more background information, it is also recommended that you read Five Years to Freedom by Colonel Nick Rowe, a former POW. He also founded the SERE course.


(Featured Image Courtesy: dvids)

About the Author

is an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group. Having left the military in 2010, he graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. Murphy is the author of Reflexive Fire, Target Deck, Direct Action, and numerous non-fiction articles about Weapons, Tactics, Special Operations, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism. He has appeared in documentaries, national television, and syndicated radio.

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  • spidermanops

    Nearly everyone in my class said they wish that type of training was given earlier on in their careers.  Maybe even a week or so of SERE type training as part of AIT.

  • smyers04

    Minou_Demimonde  Not sure how Durant personally thanked the colonel for saving his life in 1993 when he died in May of 1989. But that would have been a great end to the movie!

  • Minou_Demimonde

    Michael Durant said that SERE probably saved his life. He got to thank Colonel Rowe personally for it a few years after he returned from Mogadishu.

  • ARCoversight

    So we tell you and you have the opportunity to go, we just made that one moment, uneventful. None of us cried, that was just excessive sweat beading up. I did cry when Santa Claus (if you went through late 80s-mid 90s) turned out to be a Communist and I think I ate some parts of Rudolph. Captain America comes out this weekend, do you want me to tell to you how it ends? I had a LCPL USMC on my E&E team and he cried happy tears when we told him that road kill Snake was on the menu.

  • ARCoversight

    No details provided for no other reason than to allow the men following us to get the full enjoyment and impact of the course. Saying that, all TF pilots had all the intel.