SERE training experts include family members
October 3, 2013
(Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a series focusing on Army South's mission to reintegrate government employees who are held against their will in foreign countries, and the role Fort Rucker plays to complete this mission.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 3, 2013) -- Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training is an important section of Aviators' training in the instance they should be taken hostage by one of America's enemies, but Fort Rucker and Army South decided to take the training one step further.
Families will now be included in reintegration training to better help the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Army South to understand and further develop the procedures of reintroducing captives into typical life.
For the first time, four spouses of Soldiers who recently underwent Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, known as SERE, training received family prisoner of war reintegration training, Sept. 13-15.
"We (Army South) have worked our debriefing techniques with the SERE school in the past, and recently we decided to expand it to bring in some families because families are a big part of what we do with our process," said Col. Gregory Maxton, with Army South.
Family assistance teams, or FATs, which are Army South teams that go out to families when a Soldier is captured and works with the families from then on, worked with the families in exercises throughout the weekend.
"We worked with (the spouses) on what would happen if their Soldiers were taken for real," said Doug Sanders, director of personnel recovery. "We have never used families of service members, and in this case, service members who have been under hostile simulations and experienced that type of aggressive separation."
The reintegration process was broken down and explained to the volunteers, and Army South representatives went through the "real-deal" process of what it would be like if their Family member was held captive and upon their release to come home.
"We used examples of some of the things the spouses might see. Then we gave them ways and tools that they could use to help their loved one handle those situations," he said.
The families broke apart into teams to simulate the exercise of receiving a first notification that their family member was taken hostage, another simulating that they had been retrieved and a last one saying they would be moved to Fort Sam Houston to meet up with their family member.
Sanders said that the training helped the spouses understand how to help with the sleep difficulties that the returnee might have, the returnee's odd behavior and energy levels, and the wide range of emotions the Soldier might feel.
"One of the things we have discovered in reintegration is you have to ask the families to do things that are not natural for a family member to do for a loved one who has been away," said Sanders. "A returnee needs control and predictability over their life; they need to make their own decisions.
"If a loved one has just come out of captivity and they are resting at home and they say they are thirsty, a person's natural human reaction would be to get it for them. But as a hostage they had no control over their life, so you (spouses) need to enable them to get over their captivity. We need family members to say to them, 'There is the refrigerator. Get yourself something. Do it yourself,'" he continued.
Spouses also learned in hands-on activities how to behave while being engaged by the media, how they would provide support to their loved one while they are being held in captivity and how the military would provide support to them while their Soldier is held captive.
"Being returned can turn into a huge media event," said Sanders. "So we make sure the family knows how we maintain their privacy and educate them on what kind interaction they might want to have with the media."
The four spouses that were chosen to partake said that they were excited to participate.
"I not only learned the process of reintegration from the family side, but I also learned what my husband would be going through," said Chassie Cox. "I think this will bring our family closer together because we will be able to understand what the other has gone through, and I know more of what to expect from him."
To make the exercise as realistic as possible, and to better understand the families' individual circumstances and family dynamics, a mock Fort Sam Houston, Texas, support center and a press conference were set up.
"We (tested) the FAT teams to see if they (would) step in to protect the family if any questions are asked that are inappropriate like they are supposed to," said Sanders.
There is no class to help prepare spouses in case their Soldier ever does get taken, so everyone involved said that this was a great chance for the spouses to see how the military conducts operations.
Army South videotaped and photographed the entire weekend exercise, and that documentation will be used for further developing the reintegration processes at Army South, Homeland Security, other branches of the military and the FBI.