SERE - What It Takes
by U.S. Air Force Airman Taylor Phifer
August 27, 2018
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), trainees face long grueling days of simulated interrogation, sleep-deprived nights and nonstop activity that pushes them to their physical limits.
SERE trains Airmen in capture evasion, survival skills and the military code of conduct. The program was established at the end of World War II for military aircrew and special operations personnel who may be at high risk of capture. The times have changed but the fundamentals of SERE training and expertise are still relied upon today.
Trainees withstand these challenges to become experts and one day train other Airmen to survive in unpredictable situations.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eddie Fore knows just what it takes to make it through the training pipeline. He has been in this career field for 12 years, and is currently a SERE specialist assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eddie Fore, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron, poses while wearing his green beret on January 24, 2018 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The green beret with the device is specific to the SERE career field. Specialists in other careers such as security forces, pararescue and combat control wear a different colored beret with a different device or patch on it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor Phifer)
“To become a SERE specialist there are a lot of steps, including a two-week selection course, multiple water survival training courses, parachuting and arctic survival, three weeks of field and combat survival, daily physical training, classroom work, technical school for six months and finally a one year period where you work on becoming a certified instructor,” Fore said.
Although Fore successfully endured the nearly two years of intense mental and physical training, it was something he never planned for when he joined the military.
“I honestly didn’t know about SERE until basic training,” Fore said. “I went to the meetings for SERE and during the second meeting the selection cadre told us all to drop for pushups. After about 10 minutes only two of us were left, and that’s when I knew I was going to go for SERE.”
Many Airmen attempt to become SERE specialists, but usually only about half the trainees will make it to the technical school graduation.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Daniel Alford, 34th Bomb Squadron assistant director of operations, establishes himself in a deployable raft during Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training at the Bellamy Fitness Center indoor pool at Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD on February 9, 2016. Aircrew members learn various ways to mount the rafts depending on the situation in the event of emergency ejection over water, as well as how to establish themselves in the raft for long-term survival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Donald C. Knechtel)
“My selection class started with around 35 people and only three of us graduated,” Fore said. “Then, when I got to my technical school, we started with 50 people and six months later we graduated with 26, which is a pretty typical ratio for the SERE pipeline.”
During his SERE training at Fairchild AFB in Washington, Fore encountered many challenges that forced him to conjure up the mental and physical strength to adapt and survive in different environments.
“It was mentally and physically draining, the instructors had us sleeping a few hours a night, eating very little food, and doing a ton of physical labor and training,” Fore said. “It was all geared towards teaching us to walk hard down life’s rocky road.
“The hardest part throughout the whole process was dealing with the lack of sleep. We got around an hour or two a night for a week before we got a half day off to rest. After a while you learned how to work through it. But, the sleep deprivation was so bad, we had people who were in mid-conversation or standing in front of instructors during a teaching session who would fall over asleep.”
Although SERE training was one of the toughest things he’s been through, Fore said he enjoyed the challenge and competiveness that came with it.
“There were so many challenges throughout the process, but the biggest for me was the coastal phase,” Fore said. “Although we lived on the beach for a week, that phase was brutal. We didn’t have a lot of food, so we had to dig for clams and make nets from what was on the beach in order to catch our food. The instructors made us eat everything raw for the first few days, which was disgusting because I’ve never been a fan of shell fish, so that week I was the hungriest I’ve ever been.”
This phase pushed them to work as a team. They were running on very little food and sleep, so to survive that part of training they had to really pull together. Fore believes his determination not to quit, along with the comradery of the SERE trainees, helped him succeed.
In 2006, Fore finally graduated and received his sage green SERE beret. He began his career as a SERE specialist.
“One of the things I enjoy most about the job is that my day-to-day is almost never the same,” Fore said. “I can be teaching an ejection parachuting class, be out in a field for hours working with my aircrew on radio and evasion training, working with the Tactical Air Control Party guys and the A-10 Thunderbolt II’s during live fire training all in the same week.”
Because of his own rigorous training, Fore is confident that he is capable of preparing aircrews from Whiteman and elsewhere to survive and evade the enemy, should they ever need to do so.