Army halts SERE course after 90 soldiers test positive for coronavirus

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Out of the 110 students participating in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 82 — along with eight instructors — tested positive for COVID-19:

The course was terminated and all 110 soldiers are being quarantined for 14 days, Burton said.


  1. BGC says:

    This reminds me of the time (back in the 80s) somebody told me that the West Germany army (or maybe some other EU country) would cancel their training exercises if it was raining.

    It’s lucky that wars only happen in good weather, and when all troops concerned are healthy and well-rested.

  2. Adar says:

    Will toughen them up. Young guys in the prime of their health will come through OK.

  3. Kirk says:

    Both of you are ‘effing idiots. The SERE course and Ranger school are both schools capable of turning young, healthy men into concentration camp victims such that the Army has used Ranger graduates to study minor little “issues” like refeeding syndrome. I’ve seen graduates of both courses come out of them requiring literal years to recover from the ordeal.

    Adding in COVID-19, you’re gonna kill people. Shutting down the course is just common sense.

    Of course, it comes and goes–Some points in the Ranger School history are worse than others, in terms of physical effects. I don’t know what little dodges they’re taking to get females through, but I seriously doubt that the course is still up to the same standards it once was–Which really doesn’t effect the amount of damage it does to the body. Like as not, the males are humping the loads for the women, and they’re even more worn-down and malnourished.

    One of the lieutenants in our battalion held the record for “longest time at Ranger School”. He kept getting set back for reasons not quite his fault, like his Ranger Buddy getting severely injured, and by the time he finally graduated, he’d been gone from our unit for nearly a year. He came right back from school, and was nearly immediately hospitalized for exhaustion and God alone knows what else. It was bad enough that the senior medical officer at Madigan involved himself, and wanted to issue a letter of reprimand to our commander, on the theory that he’d pressured the young man to stay at Ranger School in order to tab out. That wasn’t the case, and there were letters supporting that, but when the idiot involved wants to keep beating his head on the wall and doesn’t tell the truth to the cadre medics and physicians at the school… Yeah. Whole thing was self-inflicted because he was certain he wouldn’t ever get another chance to go to Ranger School. As it was, they had to keep him in the hospital for about four weeks, and delay his next assignment to a light infantry division while he recovered, which took most of two years or so before he as anywhere near the shape he was in before going.

    Over the years, I seriously had to wonder if the entire Ranger School thing was worth the damage it wrought on some candidates. More than a few guys come out of it all with their health ruined permanently.

    Frankly, they should have shut all that crap down entirely during COVID-19. You can seriously kill people that way, because I would wager that the average student in those courses is probably about as immunologically strong as an Auschwitz prisoner was towards the end of the war. They can get that beaten-down by the process…

  4. Arthur Dent's Towel says:

    I’ve heard stories about the sheer grueling breakdown of Ranger School. SERE I can understand even academically; it’s a survival course; it makes sense that trainees are pushed hard enough to become underweight. Rangers, though? Why the need to push people so hard they’re recovering from it years later? I’ve never been a snake-eater kind of person nor have I served, so I have no frame of reference. Are the Rangers just so elite-minded that they want to weed people out through sheer ugly training, or is it something else?

  5. Hoyos says:

    Kirk, thanks for writing that. I was contemplating something similar, and you did it with more authority than I could have.

    Tough-guy bullshit is a real thing that really kills guys. It does so because once toughness becomes a virtue separate from everything else, it’s a spiral with no logical end. You see it in the fight world where guys are getting absolutely tore up in gym wars and stupid training methods, when that’s time that could have been spent on sensible training and conditioning that would have won fights. But nobody wants to be called a pussy, and apparently that’s worth preventable concussions and injuries.

    In Natural Born Heroes, great book, the idea at various points is “courage through competence”. The idea being becoming good at a skill means you can have the confidence to apply it under pressure. So you should have training methods that build skills and only then pressure test them. Trying to do both seems like a way less efficient and effective way to do that.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Christopher McDougall has said that real athletes throw knives, and humans are born to run.

  7. Kirk says:


    There is a syndrome in the military that I termed the “Hooah-er than thou syndrome”, wherein the cadre at various training sites have this tendency to ratchet up things based on purely imaginary standards and competition with their fellow over-testosteroned cadre members.

    I watched a guy I went through Basic and AIT crash and burn as a Drill Instructor due to trainee abuse, and the thing that amused the hell out of me was his reference to the “old standards” he’d supposedly experienced as a trainee himself. None of the crap he was subjecting his trainees to was even slightly analogous to the things our instructors put us through, and it is amazing to me still that he’d magnified that crap the way he did. It is a wonder he didn’t actually kill a couple of people with what he was doing, in the name of inflicting on others what he imagined had been done to him

    I don’t know if I’d term it testosterone poisoning, but there sure as hell is an element of something very much like that in a lot of training scenarios. Saw it happen recently in a local volunteer firefighter training class, which resulted in the firing of several senior firefighters. It is, I speculate, an all too common syndrome.

  8. Kirk says:

    Arthur Dent’s Towel,

    Missed your post, earlier.

    The reason Ranger School does that stuff, in theory, is to test the student’s mettle on many levels; also, as a means to train out “I can’t do that…”. You really have to push people beyond their limits to get that effect, and the food/rest deprivation serves nicely. I suppose there are other paths, but I’m not sure how you’d implement them.

    Military training is one of those things you have to do in order to understand how a lot of it works. Before the politicians and SJW types got involved, the whole thing was worked out quite effectively by the uneducated trainers who were working purely on tradition and canny observation. The means they cobbled together had the virtue of working, although I suspect that those means probably ruined quite a bit of usable human material along the way, rough-hewn as those methods were.

    Unfortunately, when the bleeding heart types got involved, they didn’t understand most of what they saw from the outside, thought it was inhumane, and forced it going away. Today’s military is nothing like that of the WWII/Post-WWII service, and I somewhat expect that the next time we dump the pampered kiddoes we’ve got today into a situation like the retreat down Korea or the Chosin Reservoir campaign, a bunch of them are going to do exactly what Fehrenbach describes in his book we’re discussing elsewhere.

    Ranger School produces a graduate that knows how far he can push himself, and who generally has the determination to do it. You don’t get that out of the sanitized and “nicey-nicey” mainline training pipeline, because the instructors are not allowed to do the things to the trainees which are a matter-of-course to the Ranger School.

    The Ranger Battalions also have a totally different social structure for the lower ranks–The “Spec-4 Mafia” in the Ranger Battalion is a 24-7 nightmarish reinforcer to the chain of command that the tyro Ranger can’t escape, because they live cheek-by-jowl with them in the barracks. The more senior junior enlisted reign as gods, especially if they’ve gone to Ranger School, and they demand a steep tuition of their peers and juniors, which is mostly positive. Some of the BS goes over the top, though, and can sound exactly like Soviet-era Dedovschina abuses in the Red Army to outsiders. It’s usually taken as “manhood rites” by the subjects, however, and is ritualistically appropriate for membership in an elite organization. Nobody who’s spent their enlisted career entirely in a Ranger bat is going to really fit into what we term “Big Army”, because the mores and values are that much different between the Rangers and the “Rest of the Army”.

  9. Paul from Canada says:

    Part of the problem is “tradition”, and “we have always done it that way”.

    The Israelis and South Africans did a much better job with their SF. They did proper ops research, and tailored their training and standards accordingly. There is a fascinating chapter Peter Stiff’s book Warfare by Other Means, about the South African SF detailing this.

    Similarly, we are finally developing task and purpose based functional fitness tests. How many pushups you can do and how fast you can run a mile and a half have no bearing on how far you can ruck 90 pounds over rough terrain for example.

    Some of the “gut test” stuff is definitely still required. As Kirk point out, Ranger training really does show you what your true limits are, and that you can so more that you think, but some of it is just macho bullshit.

    For example, medical students are finally being allowed to sleep enough during residency. Old school Docs continued the process of having fledgling doctors stay up and work 48 hour shifts because “We had to do it”, and it “builds character”, and “develops the ability to work under crisis conditions”. Never mind the data on fatigue and performance from the military and aviation industry, and never mind the dead patients…. Tradition, don’t you know….

    As Kirk said “Hooah-er than thou syndrome”. If some is good, more is better, until you go beyond the point of diminishing returns. Like how team building and esprit-de-corps building experiences can oh so quickly cross the line and become hazing, as the Canadian Airborne Regiment discovered to their fatal cost.

  10. Kirk says:

    I think there is a huge gap in the whole “Physical Fitness” mindset in the military. The point of the whole thing has become, in all too many forces, the idea that fitness=virtue. If you’re a tall, skinny guy who can run forever, then, somehow, that means you’re a better soldier than that fat dumpy schlump who can’t keep up.

    As far back as the Falklands, that premise was questionable. Look up how few of the so-called “Fitness Instructor” types made the entire conflict serving in the line, without having to be MEDEVAC’d for exhaustion and/or exposure. Meanwhile, Mr. Fatanddumpy was doing just fine, humping his load up and down the hills.

    Much of the problem lies in the fact that nobody has honestly assessed the “functional fitness” sort of thing. At all. They really should be doing longitudinal studies and examining the question of just what body types are best, then slotting folks based on that. I do not know of any test, anywhere in the world, where they have set up a standard course of combat simulation (which would have to last weeks on end…) and then run people with varying levels of fitness and body type through it.

    My guess is that if you did that, what you’d find would blow a lot of “conventional wisdom” out of the water. You put Mr. Fit into an environment where he isn’t getting regular sleep, regular food, and constant consistent exercise? I suspect that his facile “superiority” will evaporate, and you’ll find out that his low bodyfat and lack of reserves will turn him into a useless skeleton inside of a few weeks. Or, due to a lack of exercise and time, he’ll turn into a lump of suet due to having all that food available and no way to burn it off. Saw both things happen in Iraq, due to differing living conditions. Some of our “most fit” bodybuilder types had a huge problem with life in the combat zone because of how they’d “tuned” their bodies and metabolisms.

    There is a lot more to this question than a lot of people consider, even those responsible for managing it in the military. The SF types were getting personal coaches and such-like while I was still in, but the problem I saw with that was that they were not focusing on the fitness issues they should have.

    We really, really need to be doing detailed longitudinal studies beginning with recruitment, tracking all the way into retirement. The military, given the costs, needs to be assessing whether or not some of the people they’re recruiting and training for specific jobs are really cost-effective for the service and the taxpayer.

    Anecdote–When I went to retire, you would take your medical records over to an evaluation office where they’d go over them for issues. Then, the VA would also assess, with the assistance of a counselor with one of the veteran’s associations. When I went through that process, there were a bunch of senior NCO types from the SF group on post, and some of the same from the Ranger Battalion. Anecdotally, I noted that all the small wiry guys had tiny little medical records, and everyone who was six feet tall or around 200lbs had these Los Angeles phone book-looking things, sometimes in multiple volumes. None of the big guys came in at anything under about 60% disability due to long-term and chronic injuries. None of the little guys had anything over about 30%, and most of those were men who’d experienced severe trauma like combat wounds or things like burning in on a jump. I got all that because I was curious and asking questions, plus the fact that the medic who was acting as clerk was one of my former medics from my unit, and she had zero respect for anyone’s privacy…

    From that, I surmise that the bigger they are, the higher the VA bill is gonna be. Further, it has become my opinion that we really, really ought to be looking at this whole issue from a much more nuanced and detailed position than we have. It does not make sense to select people who are almost inevitably going to break themselves for certain jobs.

    I also think it would be really, really interesting to take a look at the injury/disability rates for units like the Gurkhas, and examine whether or not “big is better” in the long run. I think the results would show that the little guys with big knives do better and are actually a lot more cost-effective over the length of a career. Hell, just think about the lost time during peacetime for the big guys to heal after injuries…

  11. Paul from Canada says:


    If you read almost any of the SAS memoirs from the ’90′s and 2000′s, almost all of them that touch on joint training with the US SF always mention that the Americans were always over-muscled and were outperformed by the Brits on actual tasks, which usually meant rucking long distances, and that the small wiry guys did best.

    In the (in)famous disaster of the Scott expedition to reach the South Pole first, Scott added an extra member at the last minute. He did this despite it disrupting the food plan and tent plan. His justification was that this man was very big and very strong, and would be an asset for pulling the heavy sledges.

    In fact, this man was the first to die. Having a greater lean body mass than everyone else, he had a higher basal metabolic rate and so a higher basic calorie requirement, and so he starved to death and weakened faster than the rest. Also, it turned out that his extra strength didn’t last long under those conditions.

    The South African research I alluded to earlier concluded that tendon strength and joint stability was the single most important thing, followed, if I remember correctly, by VO2 uptake. That a basic level of each was required. That it could be assessed by a half day test in a gym/lab before doing any SF pre-selection stuff in the field.

    The Powers that Be didn’t care for this, especially when told that traditional South African athletes, i.e. rugby players, often didn’t have the necessary foundation for the extreme endurance required, Also, much to the dismay of TPTB, buildup and remedial training didn’t help much.

    There is also a corollary of fitness to “fitness to command”. A great deal of emphasis is put on physical fitness on the various career evaluations.

    There is nothing specifically wrong with this, as there is a great deal of evidence that in WWII, the age and physical condition of senior officers was a real factor. A +50 year old General running a major battle is going to have his age against him when resisting fatigue and stress.

    On the other hand, arguably the best General on any side in WWI was Sir Arthur Currie. He started the war as a reservist, his main career being real estate. He was involved in a scandal over Regimental funds, and had to be bailed out by friends. He was, to put it mildly, pear shaped and double chinned, but for all that, probably the best General of the war, and he would not have got above Captain in current up-or-out, zero defects modern military.

    I have seen in my own experience, Ineffective officers who seem to get promoted because besides the arse licking and politics, that they “look the part”. Broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, lantern-jawed, played football at the academy, etc.

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