Name, rank, and serial number. When captured by the enemy and taken prisoner, these are the only three things the captor needs to utter but not for the reasons you might think.
Stemming from the Third Geneva Convention in 1949, prisoners of war have to provide their name, rank and serial number (as well as date of birth), but this is not only for identification purposes. It is also to assure that the person be treated “according to his rank or status.” If an officer fails to make known that he is an officer, he can’t be granted the privileges due an officer.
“IF I AM CAPTURED I WILL CONTINUE TO RESIST BY ALL MEANS AVAILABLE. I WILL MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO ESCAPE AND AID OTHERS TO ESCAPE. I WILL ACCEPT NEITHER PAROLE NOR SPECIAL FAVORS FROM THE ENEMY.”
Article III, Section A of Code of Conduct for the U.S. Fighting Force, established by Executive Order 10631 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on August 17, 1955, states: “If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.”
From these ideals was born a series of special training courses for military personnel called SERE Training, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. SERE is a type of training first developed by the military following the Korean War. The survival, escape and evasion part of the training was already being taught but the resistance part was not. This new approach to the training was designed to help service members that find themselves on their own behind enemy lines to survive in the wild until they could get back to friendly lines. If hey didn’t get back to friendly lines, the training prepares them to handle capture and interrogation as well as escape and evasion to where they want to be.
At the U.S. Army’s comprehensive month-long SERE Training course at Fort Bragg, students understand the course was designed to be rigorous, severe, and realistic. The three levels of the curriculum are based mostly from The SAS Survival Handbook by John “Lofty” Wiseman, and there are parts of the upper courses that are very classified. In the course, students are taught how to survive by using a wide variety of skills useful in all possible climates, all kinds of weather, and with little to no materials or gear. They learn to make improvised tools by hand, the use of camouflage techniques, and the portion of the course on resisting the enemy if captured is based on the direct experiences of U.S. prisoners from the last five wars. Most importantly, they learn the interrogation and psychological techniques used in modern warfare.
WHY SERE IS USEFUL
While most readers of ASG won’t find themselves behind enemy lines we can all face challenges where we need to survive, evade, resist, or escape. Here are some scenarios, all taken from real world events, that illustrate how skills learned in SERE training can help the common man or woman.
- You are a tourist in a middle eastern or African country and are kidnapped and held for ransom.
- You are a journalist or volunteer worker in any country in the world and are taken by a terrorist organization like ISIS,
- You are lost in a bad neighborhood and need to find your way out and back to safety without being seen.
- Your home is broken into during the night and you and your family is taken hostage while they search the house.
- You just finished loading your groceries into your minivan when someone pushes you into the front seat and carjacks you and your child.
- You are walking home from class when you are pushed up against the wall in a nearby alley and held at knifepoint while being robbed or sexually assaulted.
- You and your family are under siege following a natural disaster when food supplies have run out and people are out looking to take what they want from those who still have supplies.
The introduction to the SERE course on Sigma 3’s website states it pretty plainly: “Kidnapping is one of the biggest criminal enterprises in the world, and Americans are targets worldwide!…These skills could be used in a SHTF scenario, being kidnapped, economic breakdown, being stuck in a hostile country, evading capture, natural disaster, and much more!”
Basic survival skills like fire building, getting shelter from the elements and finding your way in unfamiliar places can be vital if your car breaks down or you are lost in a “hostile” area. Knowing the best places to hide or to avoid being noticed will help you avoid detection and evade anyone who is following you or trying to find you. Your behavior and success in any situation where someone is trying to coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do, or shouldn’t do, can be enhanced with the principles learned in resistance training.
WHAT KIND OF TRAINING IS AVAILABLE?
While each subject area (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) is useful in itself, they are all related and you use skills learned in each one while doing the others. If you are evading detection or trying to avoid recapture you will be using your survival skills to navigate at night and live off the land until you get to where you are going. If you are in resistance mode then you will also be using your escape training to constantly be looking for weaknesses in your captors methods for opportunities you can exploit to escape.
“THE STRESS INVOLVED IN SERE TRAINING IS AN EXCELLENT WAY TO LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES, AND BY PUSHING YOURSELF TO COME OUT BETTER AT THE END THAN WHEN YOU BEGAN.”
You should look for courses and instructors who offer a combination of classroom or lecture-based instruction, coupled with hands-on experience practicing the skills and techniques you learn with realistic training scenarios and constructive feedback. The sidebar lists the basic skills associated with each subject area. You should check to make sure the training you are looking at covers these or most of them before signing up for the course.
WHERE CAN SERE TRAINING BE FOUND?
It is difficult if not impossible to find a course that will teach all four disciplines to civilians, especially in just a few days or for a few weeks, because that isn’t enough time to do the instruction and provide the hands-on experiences you need to deliver quality instruction and training on SERE. It is also difficult to find a good and qualified course that covers the resistance side of SERE because there are not a lot of people who are qualified to do that type of training. There is also some risk of physical harm to students and this causes companies to carefully consider if they want to provide that type of training due to liability concerns.
There are, however, a number of schools you can find on the Internet that provide training for some or all of the SERE topics. Many provide the survival and evasion parts while only a few provide the resistance and escape training.
FINDING AN INSTRUCTOR
Finding the right instructor is the hardest part of finding effective SERE training. Many companies will offer generic instruction on the Escape and Evasion part to add to their existing list of survival courses. Others will include Resistance and Escape training, but it may be more about subjecting the student to a bullying session than real R & E training.
You should look for a curriculum based on real world experiences and instructors who have real world experience in the topics they are teaching. Professionalism is a key here and you should search the Internet for comments about the schools and courses you are considering before you give them your time and your money.
We all need to know how to handle ourselves in these challenging situations. Most of us will never need to use the “R”esistance in SERE, but we can still benefit from knowing the other letters. The key is the mental toughness developed during this type of training is a benefit in any survival or challenging situation.
The stress involved in SERE training is an excellent way to learn about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and by pushing yourself to come out better at the end than when you began. As Maj. Anthony Hanson, commander, U.S. Army SERE School at Fort Rucker said, “What makes SERE school so unique is the stress tailored to the individual Soldier. Regardless of a Soldier’s background, the SERE-C training approach exploits his or her weakness in order to induce the most amount of stress safely and effectively.”
So, to wrap this up, decide what parts of SERE appeals to you, understand that the training can be useful to anyone and not just to military personnel stuck behind enemy lines, find a good instructor, and be prepared to give it your all so you can come out better prepared and a better person when it is over.
The ABCs of SERE
Although many people think of SERE as a single course, it is really multiple courses taken in sequence and embodies a wide range of skills and topics.
Survival: Basic survival skills tailored to the environment and climate the individual is expected to be operating in; skills include the survival mindset, land navigation, fire making, water collection and purification, first aid, signaling and communications, shelter building, and identifying and gathering food in the wild.
Evasion: Route selection, travelling at night, using terrain to hide your presence, camouflage and concealment, and other topics to help you avoid being seen or leaving evidence of your having been there.
Resistance: The right mindset and attitude for resisting mental persuasion or physical force, techniques for defeating fear, knowing how fatigue leads to fear and mental weakening, understanding how to handle highly stressful situations, and methods for “mind over matter” to get past physical and mental challenges.
Escape: Similar to evasion but with an emphasis on how to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity to escape, planning what to do once you have escaped, the importance of actively looking for ways and opportunities to escape during the first hour after capture, and observing your environment to look for weaknesses you can exploit.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.