Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). This training has been pertinent for the former Army Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry since their prompt capture on Monday, May 4. Despite the perceived circumstances, the politics, and the backstory, one thing is certain — these two brothers are having the worst days of their Earthly lives.
Never mind the five-Ws of their getting there — they are there and it is time for them to stay alive. Something I will avoid saying is:
“Well, if I were them I would…”
Right, I’m not there and I have no palpable clue what their ground-truth situations are really like. Captivity during armed conflict is quite truthfully an incomparably awful situation and every man has to deal with it in his own way. There are no right or wrong decisions there for them; all decisions the men make for themselves are the right decisions.
Every situation where a soldier is carrying an Escape and Evasion (E&E) map and a Blood Chit is as serious as it gets. I have carried both and understood with intense sobriety that I could find myself captive by enemy elements. In my case, we already had a man from our Task Force captured and held.
I’m pleased to know that the two men have had the great fortune of SERE training as part of their basic Green Beret qualification training. Having had the SERE training myself I estimate my fate in captivity without it as astronomically bleaker. A saving grace, however, was having (at least) read Nick Rowe’s captivity biography “Five Years to Freedom.” I honestly read an embarrassingly small number of books in my days. Nick’s book is the one book that has stayed with me the most.
The first couple of hours during capture are critical in that the longer one is held in the enemy’s hands, the greater the likelihood of remaining in captivity on a more permanent basis. The longer the enemy has you the deeper they can maneuver you into a captive situation that is more and more complex to try and escape from. An immediate breakaway from an instance of potential capture is the best option, since an attempt to break away as soon as possible after capture bears the greatest promise for success.
Against Their Favor
By SERE doctrine a key to survival while in captivity is to gain favor from your guards. Befriending a guard can spark a sense of humanity in your captor for your predicament. You can go from being a nameless chore for the guard to an actual person for whom he can feel sympathy.
A tremendous downfall for both Airan and Luke is that it is doubtful that either speaks Spanish. Both men also come from the 10th Special Forces Group, a Green Beret Group whose geographic Areas of Responsibility (AOR) do not include Spanish-speaking countries. And it is fairly unlikely that a prison guard in Caracas boasts the education and affluence that typically comes with the opportunity to learn English.
The two initial interrogation videos have been posted on YouTube. I watched them both a few times with the purpose of searching for potential signs of their SERE training. I was particularly interested in Luke’s video because he was a Green Beret Communications Sergeant, like I was, so he would know how to send and receive Morse Code.
Historically, there is the case of American pilot Admiral Jeremiah Denton who was shot down and held prisoner in North Vietnam for some eight years. Denton was the first to profit from the blinking of a distress message using Morse Code. Denton was exploited on camera by his Vietnamese captors who coerced him into making many false statements about the conditions of the prison. While on camera he used short and long blinks of his eyes to spell out the word ‘torture’.
Morse Code uses short and long tones or flashes of light to represent letters. In its written form we can use a period for a short tone or flash, and a dash for a long tone or flash. The word torture in then looks like this, with each letter separated by a space:
Denton is already blinking the message as soon as the film begins. He is not very subtle, as he even dips his head with each blink. Nonetheless, he was successful in transmitting his message back to the U.S. — resistance!
Inspecting Lukes interrogation I found no instances where he might be attempting to blink a message. Though I did see a rather blatant roll of his eyes when he was obviously forced to say that Donald Trump was the driving force behind the attempted coup d’état:
I found Airan Berry to have done a little better during his interrogation than Luke. Airan was shorter and vaguer with his answers. He too had a noticeable change of expression when he gave, what I believe, was a coerced answer. In his case, he gave a roll of the eyes high and slightly to the right.
To further shore my claim of propaganda and coercion on the part of the Maduro regime, there is some blatant embellishing in the Spanish translations of what the men actually said. When asked what kind of training he received in the Army, Airan responded “infantryman,” while the Spanish translated: “entrenamiento avanzado” — advanced training.
A more blatant mistranslation was when Airan was asked about the mission in Caracas, he responded with words to the effect to “get” Maduro and take him to the airport. The Spanish translated that was to “asesinar” Maduro — to assassinate, murder, kill Maduro.
While in captivity these two former Green Berets will attempt to stay in contact and communicate with each other at every opportunity. They will take pains to foster a beneficial relationship with their captors. The toughest time of their incarceration could be the interrogations. Good interrogators don’t have to rough up their victims; they can get what they want to know through verbal finesse.
It’s understandable to lie to protect something or someone, but with each lie, you stack the odds against yourself a little higher. Over considerable time and many lies, it becomes more of a chore to keep the lies straight to the extent that the story becomes unmanageable. With hope, the two can find themselves in a position devoid of the compulsion to engage in many lies.
As Nick Rowe did, they should be seeking out victories in their situation, no matter how small. Those go a long way toward bolstering and sustaining morale. During my own captivity, I found a rather stout piece of metal wire that I promptly hid. I was thrilled about the find though I was clueless as to what I should/could/would do with it. It was a simple elation that I felt for having it because it was a thing that was ordinarily impossible to have where I was held.
In my state of exhilaration, I told another captive about my wire… and it was all over. I was immediately rousted in my cell. A guard gave the concrete walls a structural soundness stress test with my body, while another searched until he found my precious wire. There I was alone and sad and without my beloved wire… still clueless as to what I would ever have done with it. I don’t know to this very day.
By Almighty God and with honor,