Recently, SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) was in jeopardy due to a very low bid on the Low Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) SERE contract. The bid was so low, in fact, that most of the instructors were set to walk away. They did. There was hope because the requisite experience and training is so focused it’s difficult to find new trainers. The toughest requirement was the instructor training course taught at USAJFKSWCS (US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School). There was speculation by some in the SERE community that in a move of desperation, requirements would be waived. If one or some of the requirements are waived, the instructors are filled like any other manning document and a staff with 200 years of SERE experience are out of work because the new wages are so low.
It’s said that many of the newest incoming instructors are not ITC (Instructor Training/Certification Course) qualified and that requirement will be requested to be waived. Meaning the instructors wouldn’t be allowed to teach SERE if they were still active duty, today.
The Instructor training course is a course required by all TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) instructors. Typically, a soldier with ITC is an E6 that has been selected for either drill duty or teaching at their MOS producing school house, such as USAJFKSWCS. The only exception to acquire the ITC certification is a handful of community colleges that offer the training, certified by TRADOC.
In the life cycle of an SF soldier’s career, it is typical to serve a tour of duty at SWCS. When you’re an instructor at SWCS, you take the ITC as your qualifying course to instruct the students, or ‘studs.’ This particular SERE is a part of the SWCS, ITC was a pre-requisite, meaning you must have taught in a similar environment before. But, it’s crucial that the instructors are SERE qualified and, hopefully, were SWCS instructors themselves. This is necessary training, and this is a reasonable expectation. The only way to have taken ITC is to have been an instructor, in the first place.
The USAJFKSWCS contract was already one of the lowest paid contracts in the SERE community. The awarding contracting company is not at fault, they just saw the opportunity and seized. Instead, it’s the government that cut contract SERE employees by nearly 18% last year. This year, with a 5 million dollar lowest bid technically acceptable, the work is reduced by 13%. But, are contractors where the overhead and inefficiency lie? Or, should cuts also be made to the general schedule employees, who are notoriously near impossible to fire.
GS employees cost the tax-payer more than a government contractor factoring benefits and retirement. Contractors are held to a standard and are there to perform a duty. If they aren’t performing, they can be relieved. Taking this scenario as an, albeit, limited sample, there could be a trend of shedding government contracting and resting much of the labor on general schedule civilians. I see the validity and concern of government contractors in civilian agencies but question the need to eliminate contractors from the DOD. Contracting companies are rewarded by the percentage of veterans they employ, and contracts like these, are almost exclusively veteran run. What’s more – many of the GS employees at SWCS are said to be from a military intelligence background. Contracts such as SERE not only provide necessary and critical training but also are a mechanism for SOF to give back to its community.
Most of us, when we get out, figure out quickly that we have a niche set of skills that aren’t necessarily immediately applicable to any job. This propels most to gain more education, but not everyone has the luxury to do so. This SERE contract can make a difference to both students, who will be operating in dangerous parts of the world, and the soldiers who came before them in continuing to contribute.