SERE, an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, is a U.S. military program that provides personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors with training in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct. Established by the Air Force at the end of the Korean War, it was extended during the Vietnam War to the Army and Navy. Most of its students are aircrew.

The SERE uniform patch

The SERE patch is said to have the following symbolic significance: The color green represents freedom; the patch is halved with a yellow strip to signify that survival, evasion, resistance and escape all require caution, with the knife the basic survival tool; the severed barbed wire represents captivity but freedom regained; the word "tiger" in Chinese alludes to the Here be dragons/tigers legend found on early maps; finally, the black surround honors symbolically those who have given their lives in service of country.


The curriculum has three key parts: survival and evasion; resistance and escape; and water survival:

Survival and evasion

The greater part of SERE training focuses on survival and evasion. Skills taught include woodcraft, and wilderness survival in all types of climate. This includes what is known as emergency first aid, a variant of the battlefield variety, land navigation, camouflage techniques, methods of evasion, communication protocols and how to make improvised tools. This list is by no means comprehensive, and some of what is taught is classified secret.

Resistance and escape

Training on how to survive and resist the enemy in the event of capture is largely based on the experiences of past American and allied prisoners of war. The bulk of this aspect of the course is secret. Several official websites, however, give a general overview. Official sources insist that SERE students are not themselves taught how to apply coercive techniques or interrogate prisoners since most are aircrew who would not normally be involved in handling enemy POWs.

Water survival

How to survive in water is taught at a separate Professional Military Education (PME) course; it takes two days and is typically attended after the main SERE course. In addition to training in the use of aquatic survival gear, more academic skills include first aid tailored to an aquatic environment, communication protocols, ocean ecology, and equipment maintenance.

Code of conduct

SERE training is intended, above all, to provide students with the skills needed to live up to the US military code of conduct when in uncertain or hostile environments. It is recited as follows:

1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense. 2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender those under my command while they still have the means to resist. 3. 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. 4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way. 5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause. 6. I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.


SERE training takes place at four levels:

  • Level A: Entry level training. These are the Code of Conduct mandatory classes taken by all at induction (recruit training and OCS). All service personnel get this basic training annually.
  • Level B: For those operating or expected to operate forward of the division rear boundary and up to the forward line of own troops (FLOT). Normally limited to aircrew of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Level B focuses on survival and evasion, with resistance in terms of initial capture. Because of reports of captured British sailors being broken easily as a result of lack of resistance training, the U.S. Air Force now requires all aircrew to receive Level B SERE training. By 2008 the effectiveness of this aspect of air force training was being questioned by some, now consisting as it does, they allege, of "an online course which, with reading, videos and quizzes, takes 3–4 hours to complete."
  • Level C: For troops at a high risk of capture and whose position, rank or seniority make them vulnerable to greater than average exploitation efforts by any captor. Level C focuses on resistance in terms of prison camps and serious military interrogation.
  • Level D: For aircrews, but more recently phased out; what would have been SERE-D students in future undergo SERE-C training at Fairchild (see below).

Service schools

Air Force

The primary Air Force SERE training center is at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington; training for Level "B" medical aircrew is conducted at Brooks City-Base, Texas until the planned course closure September 30, 2009. The Air Force conducts arctic survival training at Eielson AFB, Alaska, and parachute water survival training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.

SERE training was also conducted at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from the late 1960s until 1995, at which time the resistance/escape element of the course was abolished (see Controversies below), leaving the survival and evasion classes in a program called Combat Survival Training (CST). The academy discontinued CST entirely in 2005, but has more recently announced the reinstatement of the program, including some portions of resistance training, in summer 2008.


The army's two SERE schools are at Camp Mackall, North Carolina (25 miles SW of Ft. Bragg, NC) and Fort Rucker, Alabama. The former is run by the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School(USAJFKSWCS). The program began in 1981 under the supervision of LTC James "Nick" Rowe, a Special Forces officer and author of Five Years to Freedom who suffered under North Vietnamese captors for 62 months before his escape. SERE at USAJFKSWCS, a 19-day intensive, also serves as one of the final phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course, or "the Q-course."

The Fort Rucker SERE school is at the Army Aviation Warfare Center, near Daleville, Alabama. Its 21-day course is one of several prerequisites for aspiring pilots wishing to enter the Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW), or initial Army Aviator training. It is designed mainly for student pilots and aircrew, and run by cadre of 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment.

Navy/Marine Corps

The Navy and Marine Corps SERE level C training is held at NAS Brunswick, Maine at the Navy Remote Training Site, Rangeley, and at NAS North Island, California at the Navy Remote Training Site, Warner Springs. The Marine Corps also conducts SERE level B training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, and at the North Training Area Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan.


1995 U.S. Air Force Academy scandal

One of the U.S. Air Force's SERE training programs was conducted at the United States Air Force Academy from the late 1960s until 1995. Because a large number of pilots and other aircrew members graduated from the academy, it was more efficient for the Air Force to send all cadets through SERE training while they were still at the academy. Cadets would normally complete the training during the summer between their fourth-class (freshman) and third-class (sophomore) years. A number of selected second-class (junior) and first-class (senior) cadets would serve each year as SERE training cadre under the supervision of enlisted Air Force SERE instructors.

As a result of POWs' experiences during Operation Desert Storm, sexual assault resistance was added to the SERE curriculum. However, some of the training scenarios allegedly were taken too far by SERE cadet members at the academy during practical portions of the program. In 1995, the ABC television news program 20/20 reported that as many as 24 male and female cadets in 1993 had allegedly been sexually assaulted at the Academy during SERE training. One of the cadets sued the government, which eventually settled for a reported $3 million in damages.

As a result of the scandal, the SERE program at the Academy was reduced to the survival and evasion portions only, and called Combat Survival Training (CST). All graduates going on to aircrew positions were then required to attend the resistance portion of the training at Fairchild Air Force Base before reporting to an operational flying unit. The CST program was discontinued entirely in 2004. The Air Force Academy SERE program is running as of summer of 2008. The curriculum of the revived program will contain some resistance elements, but will not contain sexual assault resistance.

Use of techniques in interrogation

In July 2005 an article in The New Yorker magazine alleged that psychologists who help direct the SERE curriculum have been advising the military at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and other sites on interrogation techniques.

The SERE program's chief psychologist, Colonel Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for the "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy although he has emphatically denied that he had advocated the use of counter-resistance techniques used by SERE instructors to break down detainees. The New Yorker notes that in November, 2001 Banks was detailed to Afghanistan, where he spent four months at Bagram Air Base, "supporting combat operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters".

In June 2006 an article on, an online magazine, confirmed finding a document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act. A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said SERE instructors taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba. The article also claims that physical and mental techniques used against some detainees at Abu Ghraib are similar to the ones SERE students are taught to resist.

According to Human Rights First, the interrogation that lead to the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush involved the use of techniques used in SERE training. According to the organization "Internal FBI memos and press reports have pointed to SERE training as the basis for some of the harshest techniques authorized for use on detainees by the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003.

On June 17, 2008, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times reported that the senior Pentagon lawyer Mark Schiffrin requested information in 2002 from the leaders of the Air Force's captivity-resistance program, referring to one based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The information was later used on prisoners in military custody. In written testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, Col. Steven Kleinman of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said that a team of trainers that he was leading in Iraq were asked to demonstrate SERE techniques on uncooperative prisoners. He refused, but his decision was overruled. He was quoted as saying "When presented with the choice of getting smarter or getting tougher, we chose the latter." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that the use of the SERE program techniques to conduct interrogations in Iraq was discussed by senior White House officials in 2002 and 2003.

See also


External links

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