JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas. —
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE, candidates must overcome roughly a year’s worth of demanding training before calling themselves SERE specialists. Their trails start with the SERE Specialist Training and Orientation Course, or SST-OC.
SST-OC is a 15-day course, located at JBSA-Lackland, where candidates are evaluated on their physical and mental capabilities to include: basic public speaking, problem solving, leadership and teamwork. The last week of the course is spent in the field environment where candidates are introduced to the challenges of wilderness survival while building a foundation for the rest of training.
“We spend two weeks on base introducing basic skills sets they will need during the pipeline,” said Staff Sgt. Gerame Vaden, a Detachment 3, 66th Training Squadron, instructor. “The field is where we really get to see what they’re capable of; this is our opportunity to see them put it all together.”
During the field training exercise at JBSA-Camp Bullis, candidates must demonstrate their ability to work as a team in establishing and maintaining camp. As individuals, candidates must make fires, build shelters and secure food and water in a primitive environment.
“Getting through this course requires a lot of grit and determination,” Vaden said. “We’re going to expose them to uncomfortable and tough situations and they must have the drive to push through. If their heart isn’t in it, they won’t make it up to Fairchild Air Force Base.”
Along with a strong will and determination, candidates need to have a good reason for selecting SERE. They will need to lean on their internal motivation when things get tough, Vaden added.
“I want to become a SERE specialist because my great grandfather was a prisoner of war in World War II,” said Airman 1st Class William Hawkins, an SST-OC candidate. “That inspired me to want to help save others who might be in that situation. I also love the outdoors so this is the perfect place for me. It has to be more than a job; it’s definitely not easy but it is very rewarding.”
Vaden added that the course is rewarding for the instructors too.
“We’re in the business of training our replacements,” Vaden said. “We have to make sure we’re at the top of our game because the guys we send out of here are the future of the career field.”
Not everything in SERE revolves around survival, but that is the foundation that all Air Force SERE specialists start with. SERE specialists play an integral role in personnel recovery for all branches of the military to include our partner nations. This is a small career field with a big mission and those who wear the SERE arch and beret belong to an elite brotherhood that prides itself on hard work and professionalism.