Defining S.E.R.E. | Surviving, Escaping, Resisting and Evading

Setting the record straight on knives for Surviving, Escaping, Resisting and Evading.

“S.E.R.E” is the military acronym for “Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion.” It is also the term most commonly used when referring to the various armed forces survival schools. In November 2009 issue of Tactical Knives, I ran my own personal evaluation of the Rat Cutlery RC-5, a knife said to have been designed with input from a group of instructors at the Air Force SERE school in Spokane, Washington. As with any military survival knife, I improvised what I thought were reasonable field tests based on my past military combat and civilian wilderness hiking experiences. After all, no sane person is going to intentionally drop behind enemy lines or put himself into a life and death survival situation simply to write a magazine article. Apparently, that isn’t good enough for certain web experts, as the article received a very thorough roasting from several posters.

To start with, I was accused of not knowing the difference between “bushcraft” and a real-deal SERE situation. I’m not sure what the posters think the Air Force trainees do with their knives in Spokane, but from my own research, it seemed to be pretty much the usual start a fire, build a shelter, and skin a rabbit sort of basic skills that have always been taught in survival schools. Theoretical extreme abuse situations are just that—theory. When all you have is a knife, maybe you should stop and think before you ask it to perform a task it wasn’t designed to accomplish.

But let’s go back to the acronym again and start from the beginning. “Survival,” as I’ve pointed out, usually means the traditional wilderness knife skills that don’t vary that much between a combat or civilian situation. “Escape” should probably be broken down between pre- and post-capture. In a pre-capture situation, your best bet is to hide and leave as little sign of your presence as possible. As in don’t cut anything that isn’t absolutely necessary! In a post-capture escape you are going to be lucky to still have your boots, let alone a knife. “Resistance” normally concerns your conduct and mental mindset after capture. SERE schools stress holding on to a positive attitude and never giving up. But again, no fancy knife is going to help you live through that. Evasion is basically the same in a pre- or post-capture scenario; do everything possible to avoid being found. No fires, no building shelters, no firing shots at game, and stay out of unfriendly settled areas at all cost. In other words, simply become an unseen ghost!

Probably my favorite poster was the anonymous “Rambo” that implied another poster was acting cowardly by suggesting a pilot lost behind enemy lines should hide and hope search and rescue would find him as quickly as possible. To quote: “Why does the military bother to purchase and issue knives, decoration maybe?” I have a feeling he thinks Stallone’s movies are actually Army training films.

I’m not going to say this as a boast, but I spent my time in Vietnam on a five-man, long-range patrol team. Escaping and evading enemy forces was just another day at work for a Lurp. The one rule we lived (or died) by was “Don’t be discovered in the first place.” It takes a lot more than some special knife to make that happen.

—Steven Dick

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  • Michael

    Right on Dick. In half of SERE you MOST likely won’t have a production tool. Regarding the “Rambo” guy, as an OIF & OEF vet, I gotta say that whatever knife(cold steel or Benchmade Auto) AND multi-tool(Gerber: Army Issue) I was carrying was often just as important as my 1st Line gear and weapon. Usually in near constant use outside the wire, and definitely more than mere ‘decoration.’

  • Jeremy

    Just a note: SERE is Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape; escaping before you evade makes no sense. Thanks for your evaluation!

  • Denny Symes

    You are right on the money. I don’t always agree with you, but your experience is hard to argue with! The thing with internet forums is that you don’t ever know who you are REALLY talking to. I think that message boards where you are required to post your background are the only places to go for good information. Oddly enough, most of those places reiterate what you say. Thank you for your continued staight talk.