The Most Valuable Business Lesson I Learned at The Air Force’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School
There is no freedom, happiness, or comfort. There are unbearable temperatures–hot or cold–that you’ll learn to endure for weeks at a time. There is a constant physiological hunger that your mind adapts to as you learn how to deal with isolation and mental distractions. Just when you think that it can’t get any worse and you begin to doubt that you can’t go anymore, it happens. You are brought to your knees with a new low point, and the voice inside the brain yells at you “that’s enough! Quit!” But the strong one in you sees the truth, and the most valuable business lesson that I took from SERE.
Eric Thomas says it best:
“Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year! But eventually, it will subside, and something else will take its place”
Pain is Temporary
It was an important lesson that allowed me to operate successfully in hazardous combat missions, transporting hundreds of wounded warriors, while maintaining a high level safety. Before I went to SERE, I had an end goal in mind. It wasn’t to finish SERE. The school, regardless of how difficult, was just a stepping stone in a path to becoming a combat proven, lifesaving flight nurse that would operate effectively in stressful situations. I had a vision of myself being that person while serving my country.
The vision began evolving when I was young. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I had ideas about traveling and flying. My cousins and I would draw cockpits—now referred to as flight decks—on card boards. We’d take passengers and let our imaginations fly us around the world. My passion for military aircraft ignited in 1986 watching Mavrick and Goose chase Mig-29s on classified air spaces. My parents indulged my fantasies.
I love my parents. They are amazing people that afforded me the best opportunities they could given their circumstances. Unfortunately, growing up in project housing limited any knowledge that I could activate to make my dream of flying fighter planes happen. But at 17, I joined the U.S. Air Force as an Aircraft armament system’s specialist. I wasn’t Tom Cruise, but I got a bit closer to my dream. I was also starting to gain information.
I remember the day when I walked into a supply office on base. I was a low in the totem pole E-2 listening to a Leutenant Colonel—God almighty to me then—congratulate a Captain for getting his flight leather jacket. Pilots and aircrew treasure the leather jacket as a symbol of accomplishment. There are different unit policies in the Air Force for issuing the A-2 flight leather jacket, but none are for practical use.
I remember the pride in the Captain’s face holding his leather jacket as the Lt Col shook his hand. I stood there in the presence of these two airmen thinking, “that could never be me.”
“that could never be me”
Eventually I left full time active duty and joined the weekend warriors at the Air National Guard, attended college, and earned a Bachelor’s from UMAB. I started my career as a weekend warrior. However, during the Clinton era, military budget cuts drove guard and reserve units to fill more active roles.
Though tasking for my civilian employers, their support allowed me to move up the ranks until I found myself making E-6 somewhere in Afghanistan. When I returned, I managed an emergency department for a short period. During that period, an RN that I managed in the civilian world was a squadron commander for an aerovac unit in DC. My life was changing. Eventually, her recruiting skills got the best of me and I joined the unit.
The government can be slow at times. I had already commissioned, but the rigorous training required to be a flight nurse—not physically rigorous compared to other aircrew training—would have to wait. The flight nurse and tech survival training was shutting down. I spoke with the commander in private.
“Sharon, I didn’t join to come here and sit on my ass. That’s not what we talked about. But I think there is another way.”
She looked at me waiting for my recommendation.
“SV 80,” I explained. I could see a smirk starting to break on her face. She knew exactly what I was asking for.
In 2005, SV 80 was reserved for pilots, air crew, special operators, intel officers, and others that the Air Force deemed important enough to teach how to survive and resist capture.
The school had a 40% drop out rate back then. Flight nurses weren’t part of that “deemed important” list. But as a commander, she could authorize the training. The first night I spent sleeping on top of 5 foot of snow, freezing my huevos, below the flimsy cover of a pseudo shelter, I thanked her for it.
The second day, I hurt my knee wearing snow shoes, on the first long hike, on the mountains of Spokane, Washington. My knee swelled that night in spite the freezing temperatures and I could barely stand on it when I woke. Here is the fork on the road:
“I am the second flight nurse of a class of a class of maybe a 200. Sharon pulled favors to get me here because I wanted to go to war and be a hero. It’s day 2 of another 3 weeks. I can quit now. Maybe I can come back later”
“I can quit now. Maybe I can come back later”
By the time days 3 and 4 came around, the knee gave up on me. It stopped sending the pain message to my brain. I wasn’t going to stop anyway. I kept trekking on snow shoes, climbing, digging holes, doing whatever had to be done. I saw others drop out. But I also saw those experiencing pain as well, and marching on. I would see them limping along. I would hear stories of someone hurt, but they were still going. There was strength in knowing I wasn’t alone.
Eventually, I graduated SERE. I barely remember graduation day. It didn’t matter by then. It was just another day. I was ready to move on to the next phase of my career.
By the time I retired from the Air Force, I had over 400 combat hours of flight time, and an additional 2 deployments to finish my military career.
A word of caution
I asked, and I received. I knew that I would wear that leather jacket one day in spite of that initial thought. I knew that I wanted to serve my country along side the best.
There are things we ask for that carry great burden and sacrifice. But I’ve already fought my wars.
Author: Eliud Lamboy
Eliud “Elliott” Lamboy is the CEO and co-founder of Br8kthroo Corp. His work at Br8kthoo began after transitioning from public service helping veterans improve their lives. He is also a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, working as a flight nurse in hostile environments. He now brings those core values of “service before self” and “excellence in all we do” to his civilian duties.