How to Become a SERE Specialist

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SERE Specialists learn how to survive under extreme conditions.
SERE Specialists learn how to survive under extreme conditions. (Image: Jeff T. Green/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, is one of the most challenging military training programs available, both physically and mentally. SERE specialists train thousands of Air Force personnel every year in how to survive anywhere in the world, including in captivity by hostile forces. The program is selective and the drop-out rate is high. If you succeed, you will become one of only about 300 SERE specialists, as of the time of publication.

Talk to an Air Force recruiter about your career ambitions. You must have a guaranteed contract for SERE before joining the Air Force; otherwise, you cannot become a SERE specialist.

Train for Basic Military Training, or BMT, and SERE before enlisting. You must be prepared to engage in hours of physical training every day during SERE. Run daily and perform calisthenics like pushups and pullups. In BMT, you must run a mile and a half in less than 12 minutes; however, nine minutes is preferred. In SERE, you must also carry a 65-pound rucksack four miles in no more than one hour.

Enroll in the Air Force and go to basic training, which lasts 8.5 weeks. Expect physical training in the morning, dorm inspections, classroom instructions and plenty of drills.

Enroll in the SERE Indoctrination Course, also called the SERE Selection Course, at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. These nine days of training include academic classes and intense physical training. You will learn how to give lessons to students. Expect two to five hours of physical training daily. Your instructors may disqualify you from the course if your PT scores are substandard.

Go to the Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state if you pass the Indoctrination Course. Complete the Combat SERE Training course, which lasts for 17 days. It consists of academic and field training in survival techniques, including surviving in captivity.

Complete two days of water survival training with hands-on exercises immediately following the Combat SERE Training course, at the same base. Both of these courses are just the beginning of the total SERE training course.

Complete six months of SERE training at Fairchild Air Force Base. In addition to the first two survival courses, expect to spend the rest of this time learning survival and evasion in a wide range of circumstances. The first half of a typical day is spent in physical training, followed by academic instruction. In addition, expect many days in the field, doing hands-on survival exercises.

Expect more training if you successfully graduate the SERE program. The Air Force assigns graduates to the G-flight, or training flight, in the 22nd Training Squadron. Your title is “field training instructor.” You will have a trainer for about six months while you practice teaching your lesson plans. This is called “upgrade training.”

Tips & Warnings

  • After your SERE training, consider volunteering for additional Department of Defense courses. You may further your career with additional parachute or SCUBA training.
  • Expect to perform "Ins and Outs" every time you enter or exit any building, including the latrines, during the Indoctrination Course. "Ins and Outs" are 28 pushups.

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