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"Van Winkle, I don't think we'll ever make a soldier out of you." "Thank you, Sergeant."(1)

OK, I wasn't a "soldier": the "lifer" mindset just never made sense to me. But I was happy to serve and eventually, the Air Force and I agreed to peaceably disagree ("Peace is our profession"). Meanwhile, the military provided me with some unique, special, and valuable experiences and I tried to offer what I could back. 

During Basic Training at Lackland AFB (San Antonio, October, 1970) I responded to a bulletin regarding "Survival Instructors" (after discovering that my recruiter had greatly misled me about my "career opportunities"). I was the last person chosen for USAF course SV-81-A, the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) instructor's course - 121 days of intense instruction at Fairchild AFB (Spokane). 

During the course, Mike Smith (later, Chief of the School) and I became good friends and we graduated with 14 other guys who survived "the cut" (42 started). I also became a father right after we started the "Mobile Phase". There were a bunch of unforgettable times during those six months; both in learning the trade and in learning about myself. 

I was assigned to "B" Flight where Stan Adams, "Moose" Gallagher, Dave Headly, Rick, Marty, and Bill made sure I knew my stuff. In the first year, we spent "double duty" in the field, so I received plenty of "on-the-job" training (20 days/month in the field). By October of 1971 I was "carrying" my own crews and living the odd life of an Airman in charge of Generals. The Air Force trusted pilots with multi-million dollar airplanes and me with a crew of million dollar pilots.

By mid-1972, I volunteered as an "RT Instructor" and was assigned to the specialized and classified resistance training section. Interestingly, the course materials we used to assess and prepare for (illegal) enemy interrogation methods later became a handbook for the CIA and American military interrogators. During my 18 month RT duty assignment, I completed over 1,300 interrogations of US personnel. It was a demanding and enlightening experience.

As an RT instructor who had completed the Air University Academic Instructor Course (Maxwell AFB, Montgomery), I had the unique opportunity to teach the "Advanced Course" (super secret stuff) which gave me access to the secret POW files maintained in a special basement vault at the school. That was interesting because I had read a case file about a POW who would later run for President (John McCain). 

During my four year enlistment, I earned certification in the following specialties:

  • Field Medicine (Medic)
  • Global Survival (Master Instructor - 91270)
  • Arctic Survival (Eielson AFB, Alaska)
  • Tropical Survival (Albrook AFB, Panama)
  • SERE specialties
  • Resistance Training
  • Academic Instruction

About the Training:

“This school is one of the most physically and mentally demanding technical schools in the Air Force” (Gosere.com ). Survivors of the program ("SERE Specialists", formerly "921s") are expected to be able to adapt to all environs, all weather conditions, and all hostile and captivity situations. SERE Specialists operate as or with "Spec Ops" in Personnel Recovery (reporting, locating, supporting, recovering, and reintegrating). They must prove their ability survive in the arctic, desert, open ocean, jungle, mountain regions, combat, and captivity situations. 

Specific skill areas for each environment are practiced: building and use of shelters, fires, and ground to air signals; improvisation of tools/equipment; food procurement and preparation; wilderness travel (including map orientation, use of compass, triangulation, and land navigation); packing techniques; identifying and reporting their location (for recovery); utilization of recovery assets.

Instructor training includes the Water Survival Course (Non-Parachuting) with two days of hands-on training with the equipment they would actually use in a water survival situation and parachute training (with swing-land trainer). Instructors complete (as students) the standard "long survival course" (SV-80-A) which they will teach. They also participate in the same "Resistance Training" program taught to all combat crew personnel. 

The core instructional blocks (specialty field trips) for Instructors included:

  • Familiarization (12 days of rugged outdoor living)
  • Mobile (50 mile hike through the wilderness)
  • Winter (5 days atop Calispell Peak in snow shelters)
  • Open Ocean/Coastal (including overnight in a raft)
  • Resistance Training (with POW camp)
  • Desert (SE Washington sand dunes)

For more information, I suggest these links...

(1) Sgt. Bobby J. Moran (NCOIC) during one of our several "sessions".

SERE Creed

I am an expert in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. I can survive anywhere in the world and prepare others to do the same. I prove myself by deed and action. I accept the fact that I must live my life to the highest standard, regardless of rank, and do so without complaint. I respect every warfighter and consider their needs before my own. I will remember that the lives of those I influence rest in my hands, and if they fail I fail. I will keep myself in top physical and mental condition, I will never tarnish the honor of fellow SERE Specialists, and I will accept no less from my peers. I do these things so they may "Return With Honor" (SERE motto)


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"He who clearly and distinctly understands himself and his emotions loves God, and so much the more in proportion as he understands himself and his emotions." Benedict de Spinoza (Ethics, Prop. XV)