Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SERE Training for all Airmen

Reference: CSAF's Scope highlights SERE training, AMU reorganization, SERE training to be required for all Airmen, and Air Force to increase SERE training for all.

"As we've seen recently, the capture of military personnel has the potential of exploding into a larger strategic event with global impacts," General Moseley said. "Today's battlefields are non-linear and non-contiguous; their shape and venue change constantly. I worry we've not prepared our Airmen for the world we're operating in."

In today's ever-changing world, Airmen increasingly find themselves in a non-traditional environment outside the wire. SERE training teaches Airmen principles, techniques and skills to survive in any environment, avoid capture, resist and escape if captured.

“We’ve got to start training the total force,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Myers, the SERE career field manager. “It’s a matter of time before we have the airman transporter or ... clerk or personnelist that steps outside the wire for a tour of town and gets grabbed. We’re a target ... out there.”
The public indistinct reasons given for SERE training to be given to all members of the Air Force is: (1) capture of military personnel has the potential of exploding into a larger strategic event with global impacts; (2) prepare all Air Force Airmen for the non-linear and non-contiguous battlefields U.S. Armed Forces are operating in; and, (3) because every Airman is in jeopardy of being captured and needs to know how to survive in this situation. Unfortunately, these indistinct reasons fail to address the conditions and circumstances causing the event and more importantly how avoid capture, resist, and escape has changed from what was encountered during past military operations.

A purpose of SERE training is to give some sound common sense basic knowledge and experience airmen can use when they are cut off, shot down, or otherwise isolated in enemy-controlled territory, when they must make every effort to avoid capture. If captured, SERE training also has a purpose of increasing chances to escape or to otherwise to return home in good physical and mental condition when released or freed from captivity.

The “Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces” makes it clear and distinct how surrender and capture differ. Justification on emotional appeal to herd safety should a member or members of the herd find themselves in a SERE event avoids the larger question is what exactly holds any member of the armed forces to the spirit and intent of the “Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces” and gives individuals the warrior mettle to attempt to avoid capture, resist and escape if captured? SERE training fails to bring with it other equally important elementary training to have the combat skill of being able to shoot and perform simple small team immediate response to ambush drills so the airmen in a patrol or other military element conduction operations outside the wire has a chance to successfully establish a defendable position or concealed position and avoid capture until reinforcements arrive or recovered by combat rescue forces.

Believing SERE training alone will reduce the potential of captured military personnel exploding into a larger strategic event with global impacts and empty context of battlefield description diminishes how lawful combatants fight on the battlefield or how lawful combatants become isolated and captured.

There have been recent captures exploding into strategic events having global impact such as the March 23, 2007 Iranian naval forces seizure at gunpoint of 15 British sailors and marines who were on a "routine" mission inspecting merchant ships in Iraqi waters, or perhaps March 23, 2003 when an Army convoy due to navigational error took a wrong turn into an ambush and found that most of their weapons malfunctioned.

A study of capture events will show many of these events happened because of bad operational planning, poor operation execution, or rules of engagement put military members into an unable to fight back to win situation, on rare occasion some capture events happened because the military member just gave up when hardship and hazard confronted them. Then of course there is going missing events such as Major Jill Metzger who claims capture and escape but nothing can be verified as to who captured her and why. However, captures explode into a strategic event with global impact because something is being exploited by the enemy or by friendly domestic media wanting to make headlines for profit, to promote an agenda, or to influence public opinion. SERE training would not have prevented any of these captures from becoming strategic events having global consequences.

The rules of evasion, resistance, and escape are limited and controlled in the same way rules of engagement controlling, limiting, and restricting U.S. military operations reflect the intent of the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. While there is no dishonor in being captured, successful escape and evasion is rare. Successful escape and evasion after escape is rare because it takes considerable determination, perseverance and a plan. It has additional hazards as once escaped from capture the military member is no longer a lawful combatant so any crimes committed while evading after escape from capture becomes a problem if recaptured by the enemy.

Terrorists typically do not abide by the Geneva Conventions. Current mode of exploitation of anybody they capture is if not immediately brutally mutilated and murdered is video exploitation showing captive held by hooded anonymous guards threatening to decapitate or execute their captive if their demands are not met.

If conduct and behavior once captured by a bunch of terrorist is the concern, I personally subscribe to the advice offered by General Patton who said “nobody won a war by dieing for their country, they won it by making the other poor SOB die for his” and who also said “I don't want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he has been hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight back. That's not just bull shit either.”

Trivializing the hazards and hardship of capture to being reduced by SERE training of skinning rabbits, camels, and goats, building shelters, concealment, and overland foot travel is not the most needed training needed to avoid and to survive capture in the typical deployed to military area of operations. I suggest perhaps it would be better to give all Air Force members the basic combat skill of being able to shoot and perform simple small team immediate response to ambush drills so each airman has a chance to successfully fight and avoid capture than to focus only on you will get captured and this is how you will escape and evade. The Air Force needs a culture change from the warriors are the pilots and everybody else is rear element support to all airmen are members of the uniformed armed services of the United States with military obligations to be prepared to fight and defend.

On a tangent, I wonder if concerns “steps outside the wire for a tour of town and gets grabbed” and “"As we've seen recently, the capture of military personnel has the potential of exploding into a larger strategic event with global impacts” is a “tail wagging the dog”.

The went missing misadventures of Major Jill Metzger in Kyrgyzstan while shopping in September 2006 was explained by her as being abducted and subsequently overpowering her captors and running 30-40 miles to freedom. Although her claims are unbelievable and still under investigation she was during the month of July 2007 put on a Temporary Disability Retirement for PTSD resulting from the stress of her capture and escape. SERE training unfortunately can not prevent events that result from lacking character or lacking mental and emotional fitness. Neither should the excuse SERE training is not provided to all airmen be used as the excuse for allowing a cover up.

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