Retired Air Force fighter pilot Jay Waitte recalls his Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion (SERE) training experiences at the Air Force Academy.
During the summer of 1969, after my freshman year at the Air Force Academy, I went to what they call Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion, or SERE.
First, they took us up some 14,000 feet into the mountains of Colorado, where they simulated our getting shot down with these fireworks and stuff. We were transported in big deuce-and-a-half trucks to a compound that looked like a Hogan's Heroes stockade.
Our captors made us get out of the trucks and then put laundry bags over our heads. We had to strip. They painted numbers on our asses. I was four-five-six.
Once inside the prisoner camp, they’d just do all these different types of interrogations.
At that time, there were quite a few South Vietnamese working at the Academy. And it was their job to be the interrogators. After a while, some cadets actually thought they were in Vietnam because you can't sleep, you can’t eat.
One time I tried to escape because that's what we were told to do. I took off my laundry bag, got under the tent, and was climbing up the fence when they caught me. It wasn’t fun after that. First, they put me in a tub of ice. Then they beat the soles of my feet with a stick. They were just showing that everybody is going to break under that type of pressure.
I forget how long we were captives. A week and a half, maybe. But after that, they sent us (still unfed, still without sleep) on an evasion exercise. They teamed us up into pairs and gave us a linear static compass and a map.
They sent us out at nighttime and gave us certain places they wanted us to go while at the same time not getting caught by the enemy. We weren’t totally unprepared since we had trained for this during our freshman year at the Academy. Turns out I was pretty good at it.
Each place had a pole with a pad of paper attached to it. The pad had a clue at the bottom, and we would write down a response and sign our names, proving we had found the pole.
After the evasion exercise, we had to go on a 25-mile march. We finally got to this picnic area, where there were all these great steaks cooking on big metal grills over charcoal.
They kept warning us, “You guys have not eaten for days. Do not eat too much. Or too fast.” But some guys just started eating right away. Next thing you know, they're throwing up.
It was the best steak I've ever had.
Most of the people from the prison camp were at the barbeque, including our Vietnamese interrogators. We didn't even talk to them.
This all happened in the summer of 1969. I can remember 1969, but SERE is one memory I did want to forget.