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DoD Developing New Training to Help Potential Captives

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2004 – The Defense Department is taking a hard look at the way it trains service members to avoid capture and, if they do fall into enemy hands, how to handle themselves.

A new "core captivity curriculum," expected to be completed this summer, is designed to update training currently being provided to service members whose jobs put them at the highest risk of being captured, Air Force Col. Mark Bracich, director of policy, doctrine and training for the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., told the American Forces Press Service.

Bracich said the curriculum is being developed jointly by the services for incorporation into training offered at the services' Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape schools. If validated, key concepts of the new curriculum are expected to be introduced into training for all service members beginning with their initial military training, he said.

The new curriculum is designed to address the "asymmetric" modern-day battlefield -- one without clear-cut front lines or clear distinctions between friend and foe.

It also considers peacekeeping, humanitarian and other noncombat missions today's military carries out. In these situations, Bracich said, service members are as likely to be taken hostage by a splinter group as they are to be taken prisoner of war by an enemy army.

As the battlefield has changed, so, too, have traditional notions about who is most likely to be captured, Bracich acknowledged. For example, during the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it wasn't combat troops who became the first U.S. prisoners of war, but rather, combat-support soldiers from the Army Reserve's 507th Maintenance Company.

"More people are being put into more levels of risk in more environments," Bracich said. "It raises the question: are we doing the right thing for the right people at the right time? This is something we're working with the services to figure out."

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Williams, whose AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter was shot down over Iraq in March 2003, said his 21 days of captivity reinforced the need for additional training for all service members, regardless of their job specialty.

"When you go into a situation like Iraq, there are no friendly lines," Williams said. "Everybody is at high risk of capture, regardless of your (military occupational specialty)."

As a former member of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Williams had gone through the Army's three-week Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1997.

The course, he said, gave him the tools he needed to evade capture as long as possible, along with his copilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ronald Young Jr. Once they were captured and taken to the Al Rashid prison in Baghdad, Williams said, the course helped him endure the hardships of captivity and, as the senior U.S. prisoner, help his fellow soldiers.

Williams said he established a chain of command and "developed a fellowship with the other prisoners," Young and five soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company. Their captivity, he said, included torture and psychological abuse.

Unlike Williams, the 507th Maintenance Company soldiers had no training in what to expect or how to behave in a prisoner-of-war situation, he said. Their only training -- and the only training currently provided to the vast majority of service members -- was limited to a briefing on the Code of Conduct during basic training.

Army Pfc. Patrick Miller, one of the 507th captives, admitted that he, like most service members who receive this training, didn't expect to ever have much use for it. But not surprisingly, Miller has since become a big advocate of more training in how to handle oneself if captured. "Everybody needs it," he said.

Service members considered at "moderate" risk of capture receive slightly more training, generally consisting of eight to 10 hours of videos about survival, evasion, resistance and escape techniques, and sometimes field training, Bracich said.

Only those service members whose duties put them at the highest risk of capture attend their service's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school. There, they learn fundamentals ranging from what's safe to eat when they're in the field evading capture to how to resist their captor's attempts to exploit them. They also go through realistic scenarios similar to what they might face during captivity.

"Everything I was taught in the course got applied in a real-world situation," Williams said.

And while acknowledging that "nothing can fully prepare you" for the hardship and loneliness of captivity, Williams is committed to sharing everything he's experienced and learned with his fellow service members in case they fall into a similar situation. He's lectured at military posts around the country and recently became the new officer in charge of the Survive, Evade, Resistance and Escape School at Fort Rucker, Ala.

Meanwhile, Williams said he's encouraged by the military's effort to train more service members in how to avoid capture and successfully endure captivity if necessary.

"The more tools a soldier has in his rucksack when he goes off to fight, the better off he'll be," Williams said.

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Related Sites:
Code of Conduct Guided U.S. POWs in Iraq

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