Tag Archives: SERE

We Die Alone


“When one’s body is worn by a long effort at the limit of its strength, and especially when its function is dulled by cold, one’s mind loses first all of its sharp appreciation of time. Incidents which are really quiet separate become blended together; the present and the immediate past are not distinct, but are all part of a vaguely defined present, of physical misery. In a person of strong character, hope for the future remains separate long after the past and present are confused. It is when the future loses its clarity too, and hope begins to fade, that death is not far away.”

-We Die Alone

We Die Alone is required reading prior to the OBXi Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force Training Module. AMZ

A good introduction to the fundamentals of escape and evasion is We Die Alone, A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth. The book is about a nearly nine week ordeal by Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian dissident who volunteers to infiltrate occupied Norway during WWII.

The story begins in the spring of 1943, with Norway occupied by the Nazis and the Allies seeking to disrupt German coastal defenses in the North. Baalsrud, and three other covert agents, smuggle themselves into their homeland using a small fishing boat crewed by eight Norwegian sailors. They are planning to spend the Norwegian summer recruiting and training resistance fighters and launching a surprise attack on a critical German air base. But Baalsrud and the crew are betrayed shortly after landfall, and a quick fight leaves him alone and trapped on a freezing island above the Arctic Circle. He is poorly clothed (one foot is entirely bare), has an initial head start of only a few hundred yards on his Nazi pursuers, and leaves a trail of blood as he crosses the snow.

Highlights of his ordeal include surviving three days wandering non-stop in the far north completely snow-blind; amputating nine of his own toes with no anesthetic and a pocket knife; and being literally buried under four feet of snow and ice for a week and – ironically – surviving the blizzard which raged above it.

The “hero” of the book turns out to be the various people he meets along the way and who volunteer to smuggle him across the frontier into Sweden at great cost and risk to themselves and their families.

The story has many lessons in the vignettes on how he survives and avoids capture:

  • Don’t give up. It bears repeating because it the crux of the entire story: “When one’s body is worn by a long effort at the limit of its strength, and especially when its function is dulled by cold, one’s mind loses first all of its sharp appreciation of time. Incidents which are really quiet separate become blended together; the present and the immediate past are not distinct, but are all part of a vaguely defined present of physical misery. In a person of strong character, hope for the future remains separate long after the past and present are confused. It is when the future loses its clarity too, and hope begins to fade, that death is not far away.” Don’t give up. This passage has application in all facets of life.
  • Survival and evasion eventually requires reliance on others. The more extreme the environment, the sooner you will need assistance. During his journey, Jan would not have survived without the help of many courageous villagers in the isolated, yet very connected and tribal, northern Norway. It will be critical that people sympathize, and trust the person they come in contact with. Baalsrud was very careful about the information he shared and how he presented it it. By doing so, he reduced the anxiety of those he came in contact with, establishing rapport and trust as a priority. All formal US military SERE courses include a local support or “supporting insurgent” component during training because of this.
  • The more you are forced to rely on others, the more operational risk you will have. This is a no brainer and thus the balancing act. Remember, relying on others may also mean relying on their resources (i.e., shelter, food, clothing, vehicles, boats, etc.) without the “others” knowledge. Of course, by doing so, it may create the perception that you are a common criminal and no quarter will be given if discovered. The evader must always balance the risks associated with using local resources without permission with revealing him/herself to a potential friendly asset. Baalsrud’s crew revealed their intentions right off the bat to the wrong person and paid for it with their lives quickly.
  • The more you know, the less you need (at least in the short term). Baalsrud was on the run with not much more than what he was wearing and a boot on one foot. REI commandos take heed! This is said tongue in cheek, of course, because there are many unanswered questions in the book like what type of fire starter Baalsrud uses, as well as his fuel, food and specific items of clothing and shelter he is provided from the various people he came in contact with.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Rural Evasion

Photo by SSgt Ryan Crane

Photo by SSgt Ryan Crane

Introduction to Rural Evasion

There are major distinctions between operating in permissive and non-permissive environments prior to discovery and the threat of apprehension, and evasion. “Operating” presupposes only the threat of discovery by bad guys, and thus the limited choices to preserve the nature of covert or clandestine activities. You prevent discovery by properly operating in a tactical environment.

Evasion is the act of actively preventing being captured or killed after discovery, or at least after some evidence of your presence is discovered (i.e., evading enemy troops after your aircraft has been shot down). The Unibomber was operating from his cabin in Montana prior to capture prior to any possible evasion attempt. Christopher Dorner was operating until his vehicle was discovered in the Big Bear mountains, after which he was evading in a rural environment. Eric Frein was evading for all of the 48 days he was presumably on the run from nearly 1,500 highly trained law enforcement officers, aircraft, and tracking professionals. Eric Rudolph was a hybrid, essentially evading for the nearly five years he was on top of the FBI most wanted list but clearly having opportunities to operate.


The definition of evasion is “The act of evading or escaping…by trickery, cunning, deception, or illegal means.” Evasion is very hard physically, mentally, and emotionally as the stakes are obviously high: death, interrogation, torture, lengthy imprisonment, etc. at the hand of a hostile force if captured. The “Survival” matrix applies:

Size up the situation, surroundings, physical condition, and equipment.
Use all of your senses.
Remember where you are.
Vanquish fear and panic.
Improvise and improve.
Value living.
Act like the natives.
Live by your wits.

Immediate Actions

  • Assess immediate situation. Think before you act.
  • Security: Take immediate action to protect yourself from conventional, nuclear, biological, or chemical threats.
  • Seek a concealed site.
  • Assess medical condition; treat life-threatening trauma immediately as necessary, other injuries when possible.
  • Sanitize clothing and equipment of potentially compromising information.
  • Sanitize area; hide equipment you are leaving.
  • Apply personal camouflage.
  • Move away from concealed site, a zigzag or random pattern is recommended.
  • Use terrain to advantage, communication, and concealment.
  • Find a hide site (may be improvised or a predetermined cache).

Hide Site

  • Reassess situation; treat injuries, inventory equipment.
  • Review plan of action; establish priorities
  • Determine current location (if hasty or improvised).
  • Improve camouflage.
  • Focus thoughts on task(s) at hand.
  • Execute plan of action but stay flexible


Select a place of concealment providing adequate concealment, from both ground and air search elements, and is a safe distance from enemy positions and lines of communications (LOC).

  • Establish listening and observation posts.
  • Ensure multiple avenues of escape. Booby-trap is possible.
  • Ensure protection from the environment (shelter).
  • Determine possible communications/signaling opportunities/protocols (for friendly recovery operations).
  • Stay alert, maintain security.
  • Drink water.


  • Travel slowly and deliberately.
  • Do not leave evidence of travel; use noise and light discipline.
  • Stay away from LOC’s.
  • Stop, look, listen, and smell; take appropriate action(s).
  • Move from one concealed area to another.
  • Use evasion movement techniques

Communications and Signaling

  • Communicate as directed in applicable plans/orders, particularly when considering transmitting in the blind.
  • Be prepared to use communications and signaling devices on short notice.
  • Use of communications and signaling devices may compromise position. Be prepared to move.


  • Select site(s) in accordance with predetermined recovery plans.
  • Ensure site is free of hazards; secure personal gear.
  • Select best area for communications and signaling devices.
  • Observe site for proximity to enemy activity and LOC.
  • Follow recovery force instructions.

Planning. Guidelines for successful evasion include:

  • Keeping a positive attitude.
  • Using established procedures.
  • Following your evasion plan of action.
  • Being patient.
  • Drinking water (do not eat food without water).
  • Conserving strength for critical periods.
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible.
  • Staying out of sight.

The following odors stand out and may give an evader away:

  • Scented soaps and shampoos.
  • Shaving cream, after-shave lotion, or other cosmetics.
  • Insect repellent (camouflage stick is least scented).
  • Gum and candy (smell is strong or sweet).
  • Tobacco (odor is unmistakable).


  • Disturb any area you occupy as little as possible.
  • Avoid activity that reveals movement to the enemy.

Apply personal camouflage using local vegetation as a model:

  • Blotch pattern. Temperate deciduous (leaf shedding) areas.
  • Desert areas (barren).
  • Snow (barren).
  • Slash pattern. Coniferous areas (broad slashes).
  • Jungle areas (broad slashes).
  • Grass (narrow slashes).
  • Combination. May use blotched and slash together.

Personal camouflage application:

  • Face. Use dark colors on high spots and light colors on any remaining exposed areas. Use a hat, netting, or mask if available.
  • Ears. The insides and the backs should have two colors to break up outlines.
  • Head, neck, hands, and the under chin. Use scarf, collar, vegetation, netting, or coloration methods.
  • Light colored hair. Give special attention to conceal with a scarf or mosquito head net.

Position and movement camouflage:

  • Avoid unnecessary movement.
  • Take advantage of natural concealment.
  • Cut foliage fades and wilts, change regularly.
  • Change camouflage depending on the surroundings.
  • Do not select vegetation from same source.
  • Use stains from grasses, berries, dirt, and charcoal.
  • Do not over-camouflage.
  • Remember when using shadows, they shift with the sun.
  • Never expose shiny objects (like a watch, glasses, or pens).
  • Ensure watch alarms and hourly chimes are turned off.
  • Remove unit patches, name tags, rank insignia, etc.
  • Break up the outline of body  “V’s” of the crotch/armpits/etc.
  • Conduct observation from a prone and concealed position.


Use camouflage and concealment; Locate carefully. Remember BLISS:

Low silhouette
Irregular shape
Secluded location

Choose an area least likely to be searched (inaccessible drainage, rough terrain, etc.) that blends with the environment. Determine multiple escape routes (do not corner yourself). With observable approaches and work a range card for available weapons. Also:

  • Locate entrances and exits in brush and along ridges, ditches, and rocks to keep from forming paths to site.
  • Be wary of flash floods in ravines and canyons.
  • Conceal with minimal to no preparation.
  • Take the direction finding threat into account before transmitting from shelter.
  • Ensure overhead concealment.
  • Booby-trap is possible.


  • Moving objects are the easiest to spot.
  • Use the military crest and avoid silhouetting.


  • Restrict to periods of low light, bad weather, wind, or reduced enemy activity.
  • At irregular intervals Stop at a point of concealment and Look for signs of human or animal activity (smoke, tracks, roads, troops, vehicles, aircraft, wire, buildings, etc.).
  • Watch for trip wires or booby traps and avoid leaving evidence of travel.
  • Peripheral vision is more effective for recognizing movement at night and twilight.
  • Listen for vehicles, troops, aircraft, weapons, animals, etc.
  • Smell for vehicles, troops, animals, fires, etc.
  • Employ noise discipline; check clothing and equipment for items that could make noise during movement and secure them.
  • Break up the human shape or recognizable lines.
  • Route selection requires detailed planning and special techniques (irregular route/zigzag) to camouflage evidence of travel.

Concealing evidence of travel:

  • Avoid disturbing the vegetation above knee level.
  • Do not break branches, leaves, or grass.
  • Use a walking stick to part vegetation and push it back to its original position.
  • Do not grab small trees or brush. (This may scuff the bark or create movement that is easily spotted. In snow country, this creates a path of snowless vegetation revealing your route.)
  • Pick firm footing (carefully place the foot lightly but squarely on the surface to avoid  slipping).
  • Do not overturn ground cover, rocks, and sticks.
  • Do not scuff bark on logs and sticks.
  • Do not make noise by breaking sticks. (Cloth wrapped around feet helps muffle this.)
  • Do not mangle grass and bushes that normally spring back.
  • Mask unavoidable tracks in soft footing by pacing tracks in the shadows of vegetation, downed logs, and snowdrifts. It mat also help if you move before and during precipitation to allow tracks to fill in.
  • Travel during windy periods.
  • Taking advantage of solid surfaces (logs, rocks, etc.) leaving less evidence of travel.
  • Patting out tracks lightly to speed their breakdown or make them look old.
  • Secure trash or loose equipment and hide or bury discarded items (trash or lost equipment identifies who lost it.).
  • Concentrate on defeating the handler if pursued by dogs.

Penetrating and overcoming obstacles:

  • Enter deep ditches feet first to avoid injury.
  • Go around chain-link and wire fences. Go under fence if unavoidable, crossing at damaged areas. Do not touch fence without looking for electrical insulators or security devices.
  • Penetrate rail fences or low walls by passing under or between lower rails/openings. If impractical, go over the top, presenting as low a silhouette as possible.

Stay Low When Crossing Barriers

  • Cross roads after observation from concealment to determine enemy activity. Cross at points offering concealment such as bushes, shadows, bend in road, etc. Cross in a manner leaving your footprints parallel (cross step sideways) to the road.

Navigating Open Areas

  • Use same method of observation for railroad tracks that was used for roads. Next, align body parallel to tracks with face down, cross tracks using a semi-pushup motion. Repeat for the second track. A third track may mean one of the tracks are electrified.

Crossing Linear Obstacles

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Starting a Fire

Photo by Peter Reft

Photo by Peter Reft

  • Start a fire using each of the following methods with dry tinder and fuel: lighter, match, convex lens, flint and steel, bow/drill.
  • Start a fire using each of the following methods with wet fuel: Lighter, match, flint and steel.
  • Start a fire and boil water in a tactical scenario without being detected.

Starting a Fire

Security first: weigh hazards and risks of detection against the need for a fire. In an evasion scenario:

  • Use trees or other masking sources to dissipate smoke.
  • Use the Dakota Hole method if possible.
  • Use very dry wood to minimize smoke (green wood/plants will generate thick white smoke).
  • Use fires at dusk, dawn, or during inclement weather.
  • Use fires at times when the local populace is cooking.
  • Use only natural materials. Black smoke generated by man-made materials is a massive target indicator.

Fire building

The three essential elements for starting a fire are heat (ignition), fuel (tinder, etc.), and oxygen (supplied by proper fire building techniques). Starting a fire is done by a source of ignition and falls into two categories; modern and primitive.

Modern Methods. Modern ignition uses devices widely available and are what is typically used to start a fire. Reliance upon these methods may result in failure during a survival situation either through non-availability of the item, or failure of the item in extreme circumstances. Always carry more than you think you need. Two is one, one is none.

  • Matches and Lighters. Always carry if possible, even in urban areas. Ensure you waterproof these items.
  • Convex Lens. Binocular, camera, telescopic sights, or magnifying lens are used on bright, sunny days to ignite tinder.
  • Flint and Steel. Sometimes known as metal matches or “Mag Block”. Scrape your knife or carbon steel against the flint to produce a spark onto the tinder. Some types of flint & steel designs will have a block of magnesium attached to the device which can be shaved onto the tinder prior to igniting. Other designs may have magnesium mixed into the flint to produce a higher quality of spark.
  • Sparks from batteries (i.e., batteries and steel wool).
  • Pyrotechnics, such as flares (last resort), etc.

Primitive Methods. Primitive fire methods are those developed by early man. There are numerous techniques that fall into this category and without significant prior training, these method are difficult to master and require time to find the proper materials and build the device. One of the more effective methods is the friction method using a bow & drill. The technique of starting a fire with a bow & drill is a true field expedient fire starting method which requires a piece of cord and knife from your survival kit to construct.

The components of the bow & drill are bow, drill, socket, fire board, ember patch, and birds nest:

  • Bow. The bow is a resilient, green stick about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and 30-36 inches in length. The bow string can be any type of cord, however, 550 cord works best. Tie the string from one end of the bow to the other, without any slack.
  • Drill. The drill should be a straight, seasoned hardwood stick about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter and 8 to 12 inches in length. The top end is tapered to a blunt point to reduce friction generated in the socket. The bottom end is slightly rounded to fit snugly into the depression on the fire board.
  • Socket. The socket is an easily grasped stone or piece of hardwood or bone with a slight depression on one side. Use it to hold the drill in place and to apply downward pressure.
  • Fire board. The fire board is a seasoned softwood board which should ideally be 3/4 of an inch thick, 2-4 inches wide, and 8-10 inches long. Cut a depression 3/4 of an inch from the edge on one side of the fire board. Cut a U-shape notch from the edge of the fire board into the depression. This notch is designed to collect and form an ember which will be used to ignite the tinder.
  • Ember Patch. The ember patch is made from any type of suitable material (i.e., leather, aluminum foil, bark). It is used to catch and transfer the ember from the fire board to the birds nest. Ideally, it should be roughly 4 inches by 4 inches in size.
  • Birds Nest. The birds nest is a double handful of tinder which will be made into the shape of a nest. Tinder must be dry and finely shredded material (i.e., outer bark from juniper/cedar/sage brush or inner bark from cottonwood/aspen or dry grass/moss). Lay your tinder out in two equal rows about 4 inches wide and 8-12 inches long. Loosely roll the first row into a ball and knead the tinder to further break down the fibers. Place this ball perpendicular onto the second row of tinder and wrap. Knead the tinder until all fibers of the ball are interwoven. Insert the drill half way into the ball to form a partial cylinder. This is where the ember will be placed.

Producing a fire using the bow & drill:

  1. Assemble the components.
  2. Place the ember patch under the U-shaped notch. Assume the kneeling position, with the left foot on the fire board near the depression. Load the bow with the drill. Ensure the drill is between the wood of the bow and bow string. Place the drill into the depression on the fire board. Place the socket on the tapered end of the drill.
  3. Use the left hand to hold the socket while applying downward pressure:


  • Use the right hand to grasp the bow. With a smooth sawing motion, move the bow back and forth to twirl the drill.
  • Once you have established a smooth motion, smoke will appear. Once smoke appears, apply more downward pressure and saw the bow faster.
  • When a thick layer of smoke has accumulated around the depression, stop all movement. Remove the bow, drill, and socket from the fire board, without moving the fire board. Carefully remove your left foot off the fire board.
  • Gently tap the fire board to ensure all of the ember has fallen out of the U-shaped notch and is lying on the ember patch. Remove the fire board.
  • Slowly fan the black powder to solidify it into a glowing ember. Grasping the ember patch, carefully drop the ember into the cylinder of the birds nest.
  • Grasp the birds nest with the cylinder facing towards you and parallel to the ground. Gently blow air into the cylinder. As smoke from the nest becomes thicker, continue to blow air into the cylinder until fire appears.

Trouble Shooting the Bow & Drill:

  • Drill will not stay in depression- Apply more downward pressure and/or increase width/depth of depression.
  • Drill will not twirl – Lessen the amount of downward pressure and/or tighten bow string.
  • Socket smoking- Lessen the amount of downward pressure. Wood too soft when compared to hardness of drill. Add some lubrication: animal fat, oil, or grease.
  • No smoke- Drill and fire board are the same wood. Wood may not be seasoned. Check drill to ensure that it is straight. Keep left hand locked against left shin while sawing.
  • Smoke but no ember- U-shaped notch not cut into center of the depression.
  • Bow string runs up and down drill- Use a locked right arm when sawing. Check drill to ensure that it is straight. Ensure bow string runs over the top of the left boot.
  • Birds nest will not ignite- Tinder not dry. Nest woven too tight. Tinder not kneaded enough. Blowing too hard (ember will fracture).

Extinguishing a Fire

All fire must be properly extinguished. This is accomplished by using the drown, stir, and feel method:

  • Drown the fire by pouring at water in the fire lay.
  • Stir the ember bed to ensure that the fire is completely out.
  • Check the bed of your fire by feeling for any hot spots.
  • If any hot spots are found, start the process all over again.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.