Air Force SERE Training

Imagine yourself stuck behind enemy lines. You hear voices shouting as they get closer to your position. You hear the crack of gunshots all around you. You try to hide, frantically covering yourself in a pile of leaves. You hear the pounding of boots coming closer and closer. And then the unthinkable happens and you’re captured, taken to a prison where you’re forced into an isolated cell with a bag over your head. While loud, terrifying psychological warfare music is played at full volume. This is a taste of what the US military’s survival, evasion, resistance and escape course is like. It prepares soldiers for several realities, how to avoid capture, how to navigate and live off the land, and how to build makeshift shelters. What do you do if you’re captured in this video? I want to find out everything we need to know about sear school in order to get to the bottom of this. I’ve read through a recently declassified 35 page document written by a former sear instructor that outlines how they operate. As always, none of the information I present here will be sensitive. It’s all publicly available. I’m not breaking any OpseC, so don’t worry.

The outline makes it clear. Instructors are to be harsh and realistic with training, and their goal is to put students through sleep deprivation, hunger, boredom, exhaustion, isolation. It’s one of the only schools where they use physical abuse, but throughout the document, they provide safety regulations to prevent students from being seriously injured. The goal isn’t to fail the students of this course, but to give them the tools that they need to succeed in a POW situation. Even if you’ve been to searschool, there’s a good chance you haven’t been through the top tier levels. Click the link in the top right of the screen to join task and purpose. First squad, the channel where I’ll be making longer form content where we can get more into these topics that you love. There is a mention made in the document to the instructors saying how they should avoid discussing shadow level techniques. How cool is that? Shadow level techniques. For all the talk of how brutal and unforgiving the instructor can be, they outline a clear, safe word to use in case of a real world problem. Students are given a word like flight surgeon. If they say it twice, then it means they need help.

And to stop the training, listen to some of these clips from actual seer instructors explaining their job.

One, I want to come back and fight another day, and my family wants me to come back and fight another day and come home to them safe and sound. So it’s very personal, but we can carry it back with us. We’ll wash it off when we get down there and we’ll eat it.

There’s plenty of physical barriers. Obviously, we’re in a survival situation, but the hardest ones are they’re mental. You have to have the will to survive. But going through the training to learn it, developing that grit, that inner strength to want to get through it, that’s the hard part. You’re going to be hot. You’re going to be tired. You’re going to be miserable wishing you didn’t come here. My job is to give you the tools and teach you that you have the willpower to survive this.

There is no calling it quits. It’s either capture, death, or being recovered and returning with honor.

They even have a section on approved types of physical injury. Section six, four, two states. The instructor must remove all rings and watches. Fingernails must be closely trimmed before physical contact. They have a psychologist on duty in the event that a student lashes out and tries to fight back. Facial slaps, abdominal slaps, checking them against a wall, these are all approved. They test students by hosing them down with water. Water pits are allowed to be used where they will place a student inside of it for up to 15 minutes at a time. The maximum amount of time that they’re allowed to place students into a confined box is 20 minutes long. Since students are given the directive of resisting their capture, they sometimes try to escape these mock prisons, and they sometimes try to physically overpower the guards. This runs contrary to training plans, so they have a contingency set up to reassert control by way of force with heavily armed guards if need be. The seer instructors use role playing exercises that let their students experience simulated stress abuse, exploitation that might happen when captured. Interrogations are also role played within a very tightly controlled and ultimately a safe environment.

This course is shrouded in rumors and mysteries, unlike any other training that you can be sent to in the military. It’s not like you go to airborne school and hear a bunch of rumors about your instructors waterboarding you while you jump out of planes. I know this is getting into dicey water, but yes, Sear school used to waterboard their students for less than a minute, and this was prior to 2002. By then, they had eliminated that part of the test from the curriculum. Rangers, delta Force, special forces, and air crew are all top priority for Sear school because they are the units that are most likely to find themselves trapped behind enemy lines. A lot of people think this type, of course, is regular knowledge for everyone in the military. But in reality, your rank and file grunt is never trained in depth on how to survive off the land. When you think about it, that makes sense, because it’s kind of rare to hear about a regular grunt being captured. This three week long course was originally created by Lieutenant Colonel Nick Rowe, who was himself actually captured by the Vietcong. He spent five years as a Pow.

During his time in captivity, he learned a ton of useful survival skills. He wanted to pass on that valuable knowledge on how to avoid captivity and what to do if the worst case scenario of being a prisoner of war ends up happening. We will still see this influence to this day, as graduating classes have an opportunity to speak with and ask questions of former prisoners of war. If you look at seer courses and handbooks, all the knowledge in there is everything I should probably already know as a functioning member of society. Being able to live off the land, fix a car engine, provide first aid to oneself and others, create shelter in case of an emergency. President Eisenhower issued the executive order 1063, one which says, quote, every member of the armed forces of the United States are expected to measure up to the standards embodied in the code of conduct while in combat or in captivity. These are some of our first standard operating procedures around captivity. There’s a whole part of Sear school dedicated to teaching the code of conduct. The course culminates in a field training exercise where the students have to make their way through a mock scenario.

The military is actually very good at creating these scenarios. When they captured students, they take them to a prison and throw them in a cell. No one is allowed to use the bathroom without permission the entire time. Over the loudspeaker, psyops tracks are playing, which is like dissonant jazz mixed and horrifying animal noises designed to keep prisoners awake. The prison guards will interrogate you there. They try to find out information on your unit’s location. If you don’t cooperate, they put you in a box just barely big enough to squeeze into. If you’re claustrophobic, then this part of the training sounds like a nightmare, to say the least. I remember hearing from guys in my unit that the instructors there are allowed to break one bone in your body, or they keep you in a small box for two days straight while interrogating you. And while this isn’t the case anymore, those rumors were born out of a few incidents that happened in the late 70s where Sear school was first stood up. So you started a program to realistically recreate the experience of being behind enemy lines. It’s kind of no surprise they went a little bit off the deep end there.

Sear school came out of the DoD realizing they had sent troops woefully unprepared for being captured by an enemy that didn’t respect the traditional Geneva Convention. Much of the techniques and teachings for resisting stress, interrogation and indoctrination remain classified. And like I said, I’m not looking to violate OpSec here. So thank you for watching the video. Please remember to like and subscribe. It helps promote our content.

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