Many moons ago, our company in the 7th Special Forces Group had just come back from a deployment and we got stuck in a support cycle. Those sucked, BS details and the lot. One of the guys from our company told me about how the Weapons Committee was running a short course over at the Special Warfare Center (SWC) for SF National Guard heavy weapons sergeants. He got the two of us plugged in and we were having a blast because we were getting some good refresher training. That lasted about two days.  

But I got pulled out of there when the word came down that the Company was sending me to SERE School Level 3 (High-Risk Course), which back then wasn’t part of the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course). Of course, no one wanted to take it because it would entail being out there over Thanksgiving. Yep, Thanksgiving. Not me though. Sign me up coach!

I never said I was overly smart then, or am now. And in my younger days, I was like the kid Mikey from the Life cereal commercials “Let’s give it to Mikey!, He’ll eat anything.” Yes indeed, “Steve never turns down a school.” So off to lovely Camp Mackall we go in beautiful November weather, rainy, cold, raw.

We had a pretty eclectic class. About a dozen guys from 7th SFG, a bunch of pilots from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment “Night Stalkers,” three Air Force PJs, a few crew chiefs from the 160th, and two Rangers from the 1st Ranger Battalion. I believe Mike Durant, the pilot from Black Hawk Down was in our class. I saw he wrote that he attended a SERE course at Bragg in November of the same year. But I can’t be sure; he may have attended the class prior.

Other than the pilots in our patrol, I didn’t talk too much to the other pilots as they and the crew chiefs pretty much stuck to themselves during breaks. The 7th group guys did much the same as we all knew one another as well as many of the instructors teaching the blocks of instruction.  

One of the best parts of our class was having former SF POW Dan Pitzer speak to us one day. Dan had been captured by the Viet Cong in 1963 after he broke his leg during an ambush. His story was detailed in Rowe’s book Five Years to Freedom. Pitzer along with Colonel Nick Rowe had started the SERE Course for the Army.

He was a tremendous person and totally laid back. He spoke in a quiet steady tone and described his years of “benevolent, humane treatment” by the VC. When he described his treatment, the room was totally silent. You could hear a pin drop and it seemed that everyone was leaning forward in their chairs to catch the next word. His words were pretty prophetic, which we didn’t realize at the time. “We designed this course in case any of you ever find yourself in the situation we were in,” Pitzer said. “I hope none of you ever does, but surer than anything, someday one or more of you will.” And Durant would sadly fill that role.

One of my prized possessions is my SERE diploma and as promised, on graduation day, Dan Pitzer came and autographed it. RIP sir, you were a class act.