In the Special Forces pipeline, everyone goes to SERE school (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape). One of the most powerful concepts they teach is winning small victories. If you can win even a small victory, you can stay motivated in an impossible situation.

SERE school starts with classroom training on the Code of Conduct, then continues with field training in evasion and survival skills. The finale is a simulated prisoner-of-war camp complete with beatings and interrogations. When you are being interrogated and can’t escape, things can quickly seem hopeless. By seeking out hacks or small victories, you can regain some sense of control. A small victory could be finding extra food, grabbing a few minutes of rest or the big one – successfully deceiving an interrogator.

Throughout all Army training, stress is progressively induced in increasing amounts. Just as an inoculation dose of a virus prepares your immune system for the disease, exposure to adversity in training builds confidence and prepares a soldier to deal with the stress of combat.

Army training consists of a series of increasingly frightening activities. If you progress beyond basic and advanced individual training to Ranger School and Special Forces training, you are dealing with complicated and highly dangerous situations. The culmination of stress inoculation is a simulation of the worst possible outcome: being captured and interrogated by professionals.

SERE school trains soldiers to avoid capture, but if caught, to survive and return home with honor. The man who conceived and built SERE school was Nick Rowe.

In July 1963, First Lieutenant James “Nick” Rowe was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group as Executive Officer of Detachment A-23, a 12-man “A-team.” A-23 advised a Civilian Irregular Defense Group camp at Tan Phu in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam.

Think Like a Green Beret: Small Victories
First Lieutenant James “Nick” Rowe
Early on the morning of October 29, 1963, Captain Rocky Versace, First Lieutenant Nick Rowe, and Sergeant Daniel Pitzer left the A camp with one of their Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) companies. The Viet Cong (VC) were operating from the near by village of Le Coeur and Captain Versace decided to get rid of them.

When they arrived in Le Coeur, the VC was gone and the chase was on. Following signs, they tracked the VC. The good news was that they found the VC force at about 10am.

The bad news: they found the VC by walking into an ambush. They fought all day and called for reinforcements. By nightfall, Versace, Pitzer and Rowe were all prisoners of war.