This is Part IV of a multi-part series on Navy’s SERE school. You can read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here

I began the morning at o500hrs with about 20 “wind sprints” up and down the long hallway of the TDY barracks, banging on the doors of my two other squadron mates each time as I ran past their rooms. I had brought some PT gear, but it was just my UDT shorts, the converse Chucks I had been issued in boot camp, and a T-shirt. I thought of myself as pretty tough, but no way was I going to run in what amounted to my underwear in single-digit temperatures.

By 0600 hrs, we were at the chow hall wolfing down as much grub as we could stuff ourselves with, trying to store away calories we knew we would need. We learned to do this in SAR School at NAS Jacksonville, which had four-six hours of PT and swimming a day. Stuff yourself with carbs for energy stores, don’t worry about gaining any weight, worry about losing it as your body breaks down your own muscles and eats them for fuel.

In those days, the physical activity of being a SAR swimmer (two hours of hard PT every day) had given me a metabolism like a reactor on a nuclear submarine: A four egg omelet with “everything,” four strips of bacon, four Navy sausage links, hashbrowns, and two big glasses of milk was a fairly standard breakfast. Those 3,000 or so calories would see me through till lunch, but my stomach would grumble still. My caloric intake may not seem like a detail of much importance to a story about SERE School, but believe me when I tell you, it ended up meaning quite a lot.

SERE School itself was a nondescript building with wood siding and a shingle roof. No big signs on it proclaiming its importance, just a small blue painted plaque by the front door with a building number and the acronym “FASOTRAGRUDET” in gold letters. Underneath it hung a smaller plaque with the name “CDR Timothy B. Sullivan, OIC” written on it. I should have recalled that name but since I was distracted and rushed I didn’t make the connection I should have made.

We checked in and were ushered into a large conference room that obviously wasn’t built to impress anyone. It held about 60 desks with built-in chairs, like a college’s, a large dry erase board, and a podium at the front. Hanging on the wall was a large poster displaying the Code of Conduct. I later came to realize that the entirety of SERE School was built around the principles embodied in this code.

There were over 50 other students in the room, a mix of young officers and enlisted men. None of the officers appeared to be more than an 0-2 or Lieutenant Junior Grade. The enlisted guys weren’t more than an E-4 or PO3. All of us were aircrew, pilots, or naval flight officers, SAR-AWs, and other rates that flew in P-3s, S3A Vikings, SH-3, Sea King helicopters. You could tell the SARs guys though, we were all pretty fit and carried ourselves just a little differently. A civilian instructor called us to our seats and gave us a brief introduction to the school as other instructors filtered in. He then introduced the Officer In Charge (OIC), Commander Timothy Sullivan.