Because serving as a Naval Aircrewman (AW) necessarily entails the possibility that a Sailor might fall into enemy hands, all AWs must bookend the training they receive at the appropriate Class “A” Technical School by attending Aircrew Candidate School and a Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) School held in San Diego or New Brunswick, Maine.
Many Sailors in the AW rating routinely handle important intelligence information, and even those who do not are intimately familiar with communications, surveillance, detection, and weapons technologies. One need only pick up a newspaper to gain an understanding of the extreme violence that enemies of the U.S. will employ in pursuit of their goals—and they certainly do not draw a line when it comes to employing physical torture, sleep and nutrition deprivation, psychological manipulation, and other tactics in the hopes that a Sailor might reveal even a tiny bit of useful information.
That is where the SERE School comes into the picture.
While the Navy understandably does not print a syllabus of what Sailors will undergo during the approximately two weeks spent in SERE training, the general recollections of those who’ve made it through the course should give Sailors who are considering a career path requiring SERE completion plenty to think about before signing on the dotted line.
After a few days of classroom lectures and seminars led by Navy veterans who’ve had their SERE training put to the test in real-world circumstances, candidates face the Survival component of the training by being put into the countryside with no food except what they can glean from their surroundings. The only source of warmth on cold nights is the uniform and what little bit has been given to them to replicate the remnants of a torn parachute.
This is followed by a pursuit by “enemy” soldiers—the Evasion portion of the training—who inevitably capture SERE trainees and make them endure some extremely harsh conditions, treatment, and incessant interrogations. During this period, the trainees are encouraged to Resist the temptation to talk in exchange for more humane treatment, while simultaneously looking for means of Escape.
Those who successfully complete the SERE School consider it a badge of honor—but at the same time will readily let anyone who might be undergoing it that it probably will be one of the most physically, mentally, and emotionally punishing experiences they are likely ever to undertake.