This is Part III of a multi-part series on Navy’s SERE school. You can read Part I here and Part II here. Stay tuned for the next installment. 

Approaching Brunswick NAS we passed numerous small islands and slim peninsulas that extended like the fingers of a hand into Casco Bay. From the air, all airports look similar but as you get close to a Naval Air Station its unique features begin to stand out. Neatly laid out rows of uniform buildings, a web of ring-like cul-de-sacs that lead to underground munitions bunkers and large hangers.

Brunswick had been an important patrol base for Navy bombers during WWII covering convoys and hunting German U-boats off the coast. It had been deactivated for about a decade after the war until the emerging threat of Soviet submarines off the U.S. coast became apparent and the base had been reopened and expanded. The base had two parallel, 8,000 ft runways and a couple of P-3 Squadrons based there. When combined with the P-3s deployed overseas to Iceland and the U.K., the P-3 Orion could cover the whole North Atlantic Ocean.

Coming in low I realized how much snow was on the ground and my heart sank. There was snow everywhere and I suddenly remembered that I was nearly 700 miles north of Norfolk where it was already pretty damned cold. The Orion touched down easily on the runway which was clear of snow and ice. We taxied over to a spot near the tower where another small group of uniformed passengers was waiting to board near a couple of carts full of canvas bags. A large fuel truck arrived to top off the plane’s tanks. Grabbing my bag I made a point of thanking the petty officer who had hooked me up with a crew seat on the plane and asked if they were staying in Brunswick. “Nope,” he replied. “We’re going to Kay-Vic.”

“Kay-Vic” was slang for Kevflavik, Iceland. These guys were going to spend another seven-eight hours in the air covering more than 2,000 miles. The waiting passengers were going there too on travel orders and those canvas bags were mail for the base. When they opened the door there was a blast of freezing cold air that instantly took over the warmth of the cabin. We climbed down the extended ladder onto the ramp and entered the Flight Operations center and got a map of the base with circles indicating where the SERE School Administrative office was located. We humped our gear on foot over to the SERE School Admin building.

It was a small house-sized building with wood siding and a front porch. A Second Class Petty Officer was seated at a desk as we came in. He appeared to have no interest in us at all for several moments. He then took our orders, tore off copies, and logged them. Then, one of those acronym-laden conversations unique to the military took place.

“Okay,” he said taking one of our base maps and getting out a pen. “This is the Enlisted Mess, you guys aren’t entitled to BAS so I’ll give you Chow Cards, the Exchange is here, the TAD/TDY quarters are here, give them one of the copies of your orders which I’m stamping right now. The E-Club is off-limits and you may not step foot off the base without our permission, clear?” What he just told us is where to eat, how it would be paid for (not by us), where the department store was and where we would sleep. That was all we needed to know. We were also told to be dressed out in our Cracker Jacks for orientation the next day at 0730hrs.

Walking over to the barracks on foot seemed a long walk in the cold. I thought about breaking out my Peacoat and putting it on, but it wasn’t authorized for wear with flight gear so I didn’t dare, but I did put on my wool watch cap which helped some. The TAD/TDY quarters consisted of a long, two-story wooden barracks building about two feet above the ground on concrete caissons and probably dated back to WWII. We each cursed a little under our breath at the sight of it. We had imagined that our quarters would consist of 20-30 sets of bunk beds running the length of the squad bay. It would have a linoleum deck in green or gray and it would probably be cold and drafty with communal showers and shitters.