Training the Best for the Worst
A Look at Navy SERE School
A loud snap in the distance makes the Sailor immediately drop into a low crouch, his eyes wide and heart racing; the noise could have been anything - deadfall from the dry tree branches, a desert fox or mountain lion, or perhaps even the enemy stalking him.
His feet crunch through the brush as he slowly and carefully moves to investigate the noise, avoiding cactus and trying to stay somewhat hidden despite the lack of vegetation in the sprawling desert landscape.
The Sailor is completely isolated, and miles behind enemy lines.
Deep in the desert mountains of Warner Springs, California, the U.S. Navy runs Sailors and Marines through this scenario as part of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training, better known as SERE.
"You're going to be hot, you're going to be tired," said a SERE instructor, facing a large group of incoming Navy and Marine students. "You're going to be miserable, wishing you didn't come here."
SERE students come from varied backgrounds across the services; the bulk being reconnaissance Marines, Naval and Marine pilots and aircrewmen, and special operations support personnel. However, the instructor said the training is available for any Sailor or Marine to apply to as long as there are slots available.
For two weeks, these students will be living in the desert, facing sweltering days under the hot sun and frigid nights sleeping under the stars, all the while searching for food amongst the desert foliage and attempting to evade capture by the instructors. During that time they will learn valuable survival skills, and be able to put them into application in the field.
"A lot of guys when they come out here don't have a lot of field experience," said the instructor. "We teach the basics - not just on hiding, but navigation, how to procure water, and how to procure food."
The training is infamous among Sailors and Marines for being extremely difficult and intense, but it also serves a valuable purpose - especially for those whose missions will take them into enemy territory.
"The purpose of this training, when you boil it down, is we're teaching our students how to survive, and return with honor from any isolating incident," said another unidentified SERE instructor.