Imagine yourself stuck behind enemy lines. You hear voices shouting as they get closer to your position. You hear the crack of gunshots all around you. You try to hide frantically by covering yourself in a pile of leaves. You hear the pounding of boots coming closer and closer. Then the unthinkable happens and you’re captured. Taken to a prison where you’re forced into an isolated cell with a bag over your head while loud terrifying psychological warfare music is played at full volume. This is a taste of what the U.S. military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape Course is like.

SERE prepares soldiers for several realities: how to avoid capture; how to navigate and live off the land; how to build makeshift shelters; and what to do if you’re captured. In this video, I want to find out everything we need to know about SERE. In order to get to the bottom of this, I’ve read through a recently declassified 35-page document written by a former SERE instructor that outlines how they operate. As always, none of the information I present is sensitive. It is all publicly available — I’m not breaking OPSEC here, don’t worry.

The outline makes it clear the instructors are to be harsh and realistic with the training. Their goal is to put students through sleep deprivation, hunger, boredom, exhaustion, and isolation. It’s also one of the only schools where they use physical abuse, but throughout the document, they provide safety regulations to prevent students from being seriously injured. The goal isn’t to fail students but to give them the tools needed to succeed in a POW situation. So while they will put black bags over people’s heads and handcuff them, the instructors are told not to march them in circles or have them walk over dangerous obstacles with a hood over their head. Even if you’ve been to SERE school, there’s a good chance you haven’t been through the top tier levels. Even this declassified document does not go into the Top Secret portions of the class, which are reserved for high-level special operators and CIA types. And that’s kind of crazy, if you pause to think about it: there are even tougher parts of SERE school than we know about.

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Written and edited by Chris Cappy. Video editing and co-produced by Rebecca Rosen.