Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



CNN Presents: Captured: Inside the Army's Secret School

Aired August 10, 2002 - 20:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The missile hit basically in the middle of an airplane and I actually was on fire before I could eject, and I had no idea if in the next millisecond if I'm dead or not, a very emotional experience to hear some of your closest friends calling out to your saying that they won't leave you, we won't leave you behind.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I thought I was well-trained and I was going to resist as hard as I could and, to some degree, I let my fellow prisoners down.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): How do warriors prepare for the worst? We go behind the scenes to a mock prison camp where soldiers learn how to fight even in captivity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know what freedom is until you lose it. Here they lose their freedom, all freedom.


AARON BROWN, HOST: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. They are the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, elite commandos who play a crucial role in America's war on terror. As you can imagine, their training is intense, but what you've never seen before is the realistic way they train to cope with the perils of captivity, to resist interrogation, even torture.

In this program, our cameras will show you what news cameras have never been able to show you before. They will take you inside the Army's Advanced Survival School, and we go there very carefully because much of this training is classified, but what we can show you reflects the risks the Special Forces face in Afghanistan and in all those battles to come.

In victory, they will come home to glory. If they die on the battlefield, they will come home in flag-draped coffins. But if they are captured and tortured and broken by the enemy, how then can they come home with honor? It is a CNN PRESENTS exclusive, narrated by Martin Savidge. Now here's CAPTURED: INSIDE THE ARMY'S SECRET SCHOOL.


SAVIDGE: There's a roaring fire, a placid lake, and a hike through the woods, but don't confuse this with summer camp. This is the army's Advanced Survival School at Camp McCall, North Carolina. It's run by Army Special Forces. You may know them by the nickname Green Berets.

SGT. DANNY, INSTRUCTOR, SPECIAL WARFARE CENTER: I tell my students that there's no honor in coming home in a body bag.

SAVIDGE: For nearly three weeks, a CNN camera team was granted exclusive access to this training, a class of 15 new Green Berets. We followed Team 1, six men who for security reasons asked us not to use their full names. They've all been in the Army several years, wanted a challenge and found it in Special Forces.

SGT. SHAY, STUDENT: My grandfather was in World War II and my father was in Vietnam and then I have a brother that was in Panama and Saudi Arabia both. And actually, I myself swore the Army wasn't for me, but then I started to realize that I like serving my country.

SAVIDGE: Soon they may be serving in the war against terrorism.

SGT. KEITH, STUDENT: Am I happy about that? I'm happy that there's a need for me to do my job. I'm not happy with what it may concern, you know. Nobody wants to see their own troops die or nobody wants to see their crews get hurt.

SAVIDGE: This is their last formal training before their assignments, and because some of the training is classified, there were ground rules for our coverage. We agreed to allow the military to censor footage of sensitive material and comment on parts of our script before the broadcast. In exchange our access, though not without restrictions, was unprecedented.

COL. CHARLES KING, SPECIAL WARFARE CENTER: What our soldiers know is that we will never abandon each other. We want Americans to know that we trust the American citizen, that they will never abandon one of us, and that's, I think, why they need to know what goes on here.

SAVIDGE: What goes on here is three weeks of what the Army calls stress inoculation. In a realistic setting, they will learn how to live off the land if stranded behind enemy lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All grasses are edible.

SAVIDGE: Then, they will learn how to escape if hunted down, and finally, they will learn how to resist if captured, imprisoned, tortured.

SGT. DANNY: It's nothing more than the will to survive, and they crawl back home, then that's what we teach them, that you don't ever give up.

SAVIDGE: Fighter Pilot Scott O'Grady learned that lesson in the Air Force Survival School, and it saved his life. He was based at Aviano (ph) Air Base in Italy, his F-16 patrolling a no-fly zone in Bosnia in 1995 when Bosnian-Serb missiles shot down his plane. O'Grady was trapped for six days, alone in hostile territory.

SCOTT O'GRADY, FORMER AIR FORCE PILOT: They teach us in survival school very explicitly to search for victories. As small as they may be, you find any little victory you can to maintain a positive attitude. A small victory would have been finding something to eat, getting moisture out of my socks to be able to suck the sweat out of them, you know, to moisten my lips. Little things are critical at that period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please identify.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those quarters are good. Hold them for about ten minutes.

SAVIDGE: Teaching survival means inspiring students to think creatively.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How to make a nail to make this hook, you add a little color to it, you got somewhere to secure it, would it work? A guy made this out of a Copenhagen can, the top of a Copenhagen can.

SAVIDGE: For example, the junk that they might scavenge can be transformed into fishing lures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes out, now it's going to go horizontal. It's going to get stuck in his throat.

SAVIDGE: The skills taught here at Camp McCall reflect the reality of today's war. A small team of Army commandos could be cut off, desperate, in a remote place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your cheek right down in the dirt.

SAVIDGE: Early in the course, students are required to build a fire and boil water in 15 minutes.

SGT. DANNY: You bring it home when you say, sir, you've got a man down. You're on the mountain. It's 40 degrees below zero. The wind is blowing. You got a man down from hypothermia. The medic is taking care of him but it's your job to get a fire or you're going to lose this guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't give up. I don't want to hear attitudes. I want to see you just doing the right thing.

SGT. DANNY: And then he understands, hey, this is not just a test. He's talking about the truth.

SAVIDGE: Despite the high stakes...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a little bit of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in there, all kinds of nastiness.

SAVIDGE: ...making weapons out of whatever, the mood is light, at least at the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now what the hell is this? I should be a corrections officer back in the days. It's called a shank. Let's call it a shank, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you were an inmate dude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called a shank. Now the Taliban or whoever is sneaking up on us, I see him sneaking up on us, I'm going to sneak up on him. I'm going to get behind him. I'm going to stick that in and break it off just like a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) baby.

SAVIDGE: But the levity is not to be confused with a lack of purpose.

SGT. KING: The guts of this course is about transforming people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good use of materials here.

SGT. KING: To make the decisions they need to make in situations that we cannot predict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody want this for their soupage (ph)?

SAVIDGE: Although at first glance it may look like summer camp, these men understand the difference between earning a merit badge and learning to save their own lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your Cub Scouts or your Boy Scouts, there's nothing that says their lives are necessarily going to depend on it. I may have to go do this tomorrow.

SAVIDGE: When we come back, the missions that could put them in danger. And later, teaching a lesson they'll never forget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get choked up just talking about it. It's kind of odd, because I work with the toughest guys in the world.




SAVIDGE: For the first few days of Survival School, the soldiers get enough to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It tastes like chicken.

SAVIDGE: But before long, a full stomach and the taste of rabbit will give way to hunger and thoughts of road kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything that's been dead for a while, anything that's probably maggot-covered, the more cooked the better. So if it's black and crispy it's still got some nutrients in there.

SAVIDGE: The running joke is that food is a crutch. In other words, if you're hungry, get over it. Use mental strength to overcome physical stress. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to really learn a lot of things about yourself that you never really thought about before. You're going to see how much your body can take, where your breakdown points will be. By the end of this course, I'll know.

SAVIDGE: To get to Survival School, Special Forces troops have made it through a highly-competitive selection process and as much as two demanding years of training.

Although there are rigorous physical requirements, the chosen few are not necessarily the biggest or strongest. Key is the ability to handle confusing situations. For example, an obstacle course where the soldiers don't know the standard for passing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what we're looking for, a fellow that's going to do the best he can in a situation in which he does not know what the standard is, nor does he know when it's going to be over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight, nine, ten. I hope you don't think I'm kidding about removing you from the course. Walk across the ladder now, candidate.

SGT. KING: What we're looking for is what's inside.

SAVIDGE: Only one out of four candidates will earn the coveted Green Beret.

SGT. KING: Every part of the military has a weapon system, you know, a battleship or a fighter airplane or a tank. Our weapon system is our brain and our character.

SAVIDGE: The first big visible mission for Special Forces was Vietnam. They were romanticized in movies and songs, but as the war dragged on, the Green Berets came to symbolize the quagmire that the public wanted to forget. And after Vietnam, military planners wanted heavy weapons to contain the Soviets. As lightly-armed commandos, Special Forces became low priority. Saddled with the legacy of Vietnam, they were dismissed as snake eaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who here has eaten snake before? All right.

SAVIDGE: Now in the war against terrorism...


SAVIDGE: ...snake eaters are once again in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to start pulling that skin. Just start pulling it all the way back.

SAVIDGE: Snakes, along with just about anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worms are a good, viable food source for you, right? What does that taste like to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of like a worm, kind of fishy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can eat wood grubs, maggots, worms, grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, cicadas, katydids, praying mantis. Roast them, boil them, do whatever you want, or just sun dry them. You're going to reach down and grab back there at the tail, right.

SAVIDGE: Nature's MREs, meals ready to eat, make perfect sense when you consider the missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't necessarily have to chew it. You can just swallow them right down.

SAVIDGE: Special Forces troops often work in small teams behind enemy lines. They can be cut off from friendly forces and have to make it on their own. Survival School gives them the tools.

SGT. DANNY: We tell soldiers you don't go into combat with half- full magazines of ammo. The same thing here, you don't go into combat or any other situation with your brain only half-full of knowledge.

SAVIDGE: One of the most important missions for Special Forces is to train, equip, and organize indigenous fighters. There's no better example than Afghanistan, where Special Forces joined with the local opposition helping to overthrow the Taliban.

SGT. KING: I can't tell you five years from now what sort of environment our graduates will be in. Five years ago, I certainly could never have told you that we'd be riding horses in Afghanistan, but we were, and when the opportunity came up and the only way to go to war was on horseback, our soldiers got on the horses and they went to war.

SAVIDGE: It's precisely the kind of unconventional warfare that puts them at risk. Taliban and al Qaeda supporters have offered a $50,000 bounty for a dead Westerner, according to the U.S., and $100,000 for a live one.

SGT. KING: The nature of the enemy we're fighting, he fights in an unrestricted fashion. He intends to exploit anybody and anything he can get his hands on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eye gouge, get his hair, get his helmet, whatever you can.

SAVIDGE: When we come back, fighting when you're stranded, unarmed, and weak from hunger.




SAVIDGE: At the Army Survival School, students learn how a hasty retreat might keep them alive. Even in a jungle, where the trees are too dense for a chopper to land, stranded soldiers can be lifted out to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a while you think it's a fun ride but then, you know, reality also checks in. There's a reason why you're doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you think about it, you think OK you know, I might have to use this if it's a life or death situation. What's more important?

SAVIDGE: A well-executed rescue is poetry in motion. Scott O'Grady knows from personal experience. When his F-16 was shot down over Bosnia, he was trapped. Meanwhile U.S. and NATO forces stood by to pull him out. After six days, O'Grady finally made contact with the search plane.


O'GRADY: I had every emotion rushing through me I could ever think of. You know you wanted to laugh, you wanted to scream, you wanted to cry.

SAVIDGE: The emotions were overwhelming even later when officials played the conversation at a news conference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basher Five Two, this is Basher One One. You're loud and clear.

O'GRADY: I'm alive. I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. What was your squadron in Korea?

O'GRADY: Juvats. Juvats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. You're alive. Good to hear your voice.

SAVIDGE: Marines standing by in the Adriatic Sea were dispatched to get him, hopefully before the Bosnian Serbs did.

O'GRADY: It's not over until it's over and you don't celebrate and you don't even think that you're home until you are.

SAVIDGE: O'Grady made it home without having to fight on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a weapon up here. What's going to happen? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SAVIDGE: But what if the stranded soldier, unarmed and weak from hunger, is confronted? The Survival School's hand-to-hand combat class teaches how to leverage even limited strength.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm going to torque with all my might against his elbow, all right. So we go one, two, step and break, all right, pop his ass. SAVIDGE: Hopefully it never comes to this, that's why the school teaches soldiers how to evade the enemy. The lesson takes the form of a war game with an opposition force to make it realistic. For three days, they hunt down the students in an 18,000-acre wilderness nicknamed Jurassic Park.

The students move under cover of darkness in small teams with no food, no water, no weapons. Each morning the teams rendezvous with instructors who check their progress.


SAVIDGE: Team One needed the entire night to cover just four miles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're going that slow, all you want to do is just get somewhere and stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, how's everybody doing?

SAVIDGE: But they stopped in the wrong spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you're in the wrong area.

SAVIDGE: A mile from their target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shot (UNINTELLIGIBLE) straight to this area right here and hit it pretty much dead on because we could see these buildings.


SAVIDGE: And the error that in real life would cripple a rescue effort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if you had a chopper come in with a spy system or whatever, they're going to use to extract you out or whether he can land, he's looking for you a click and a half away. He couldn't be looking for you here.

SAVIDGE: In this phase of the training, the students must use what they've been taught about living off the land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, that's your ginger.

SAVIDGE: And overcoming food diversions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't eat this.

SGT. SHAY, STUDENT: Probably a cockroach is that were to appear in food or something that might be a little hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be careful, don't just start arbitrarily picking green stuff. This stuff right here, that's jasmine. It puts you out just about as quick as hemlock will, so stay off of that. SAVIDGE: There's another night of slow progress. Some teams give in to temptation, walking near the roads. It's an easier route but one where they could be spotted and busted by the instructors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're out in the middle of the open. What would happen to you in the real world if I didn't have a flashlight and I was sitting up there on a high ground with a machine gun? You're dead.

SGT. DANNY: We're talking about basic human instincts. This is what you want to do but this is what's right. This isn't what's going to make you feel good. This is what's going to keep you alive.

SAVIDGE: But the war game is set up so the students are soon captured. Then they will struggle like POWs before them not to break under the enemy's pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we can't keep them here forever. We just want them to think that we can.





SAVIDGE: After several days of the war game, evading the bad guys, the students are captured. It's inevitable because the training exercise is rigged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's mostly shock value, not really fear but my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when it comes to apprehension definitely was pegged.

SAVIDGE: The blindfolds, the sound effects, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, here begins the most stressful part of Survival School, learning how to cope with an enemy's attempt to exploit prisoners for information or propaganda.

SGT. MIKE, SPECIAL WARFARE CENTER: Just because you're held captive doesn't mean you know that you're finished being a soldier. You're not in the fight but you still have a mission and your mission is to support your country, your military, your fellow soldiers, and your mission is to survive.

SAVIDGE: The captors are Survival School instructors playing the role of bad guy.

MARK GEHRUNG, INSTRUCTOR: Our job here is to provide as realistically as we can a hostile environment, appearing to be anti- American or non-religious. I know I don't really feel that way, you know. I just want him to think that I do. I am the enemy.

SAVIDGE: The captured students are stripped of their uniforms and assigned new identities, numbers instead of names.

SGT. ERIC, STUDENT: Basically once you lose everything, you know, the only thing you have is your heart and your mind.

SAVIDGE: They're taken to a mock POW camp, the Resistance Training Lab. The compound looks like a communist-style prison, concrete cells, a tiger cage, third-world latrines and outside the barbed wire, marked graves.

Because much of what goes on here is classified, the only version available to the public until now was Hollywood's version. In the "GI Jane" Survival School, Demi Moore is subjected to unchecked brutality as she tries to break the gender barrier in a male-only commando unit. The training degenerates into a sadistic initiation rite.

This would not be tolerated in the real Survival School. For one thing, the Army uses psychological tests to weed out instructors who might get overzealous as prison guards, and the Army strictly limits how harsh the physical and mental pressures can be.

(on camera): There was a rumor going around here that you were only limited to breaking three ribs. Is that true?

SGT. GLEN, INSTRUCTOR: No, that's not true, we don't break bones.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): But it will not publicly disclose what the limits are, in order to maximize the anxiety for future students.

ELMER ADAMS, INSTRUCTOR: Is the guy going to be in stress in captivity? Damn straight he is. So, we're going to put him under stress here to prepare him for that just in case he gets scarfed up.

SAVIDGE: The students are following in the steps of a real prisoner. The late Nick Rowe, a war hero, memorialized at the Survival School. Rowe was a former Green Beret captured and held in the jungles of Vietnam.

NICK ROWE, FORMER GREEN BERET: I thought I was ready for torture, interrogation, and death, and all of a sudden I began to realize I didn't have any preparation for that at all.

SAVIDGE: His compass was the military's code of conduct. "If captured I will continue to resist by all means available, divulge only name, rank, service number, and date of birth, and make no statements disloyal to my country."

SAVIDGE (on camera): But it was never that simple. Rowe had two choices, bad and worse. Should he endure starvation, disease, and torture, or give up sensitive information, confess to war crimes in exchange for better treatment? The code of conduct didn't seem to help.

ROWE: You know the code of conduct the way it's written is a guide and it should be taught as a guide. We know by the time it gets down to the level the troops are getting it, what do they get? Give them name, rank, serial number, date of birth, and nothing else. You get don't do this, don't do that and don't do the other. What happens when you run out of don'ts?

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Rowe had to figure out how to walk the line between resisting and getting himself killed. In a diary he secretly kept, he made lists of food, music, Vietnamese vocabulary, anything to keep his captors from controlling his mind.

His captors demanded a written statement from Rowe confessing to war crimes, which they could use as propaganda to bolster enemy morale, but Rowe's half-hearted attempts never went quite far enough to satisfy them. Instead, he had bought time.

ROWE: What they're looking for is sincerity and a little bit of cooperation.

SAVIDGE: After five years, Rowe escaped. He later championed efforts to improve Army training so future soldiers would be better prepared.

ROWE: If you stand up and recite the code of conduct to them, they're going to beat you into a bloody pulp.

SAVIDGE: When we come back, today's Green Berets prepare for the worst.




SAVIDGE: Every student at the Army Survival School, every instructor and every real prisoner of war knows the perils a soldier in captivity will face.

GEHRUNG: I believe he should expect the worst. I believe he should expect deprivation, degradation, and exploitation.

SAVIDGE: To prepare commandos who are at high risk of capture, the Army makes training as realistic as possible. There is food deprivation severe enough that over the course of Survival School, a student typically drops 15 pounds.

SGT. SHAY: At first you talk about that quite a bit. You know hey, I can't wait to have you know a cheeseburger or things like that, but then believe it or not, after a little while, you just stop thinking about it and you're happy with your water.

SAVIDGE: The results of sleep deprivation.

SGT. SHAY: Well, I literally banged my head on a wall because I was standing next to it and my legs just gave out for a second and I went forward and hit my head on a wall.

SGT KEITH: You can hear people talking to themselves or they'll hear something and they thought it was you saying something, so they'll start talking to you like you had started the conversation. What are you talking about? Or, you know, very common with hunger combined with sleep deprivation is the hallucinations, seeing things. Hey, did you see that? Hey, you got something crawling on your back. No, I don't.

SAVIDGE: International law is supposed to protect POWs from inhumane treatment, but some adversaries have systematically tortured U.S. prisoners and exploited them for propaganda purposes.

MCCAIN: I ejected and broke a leg and both arms.

I thought I was well-trained and I was going to resist as hard as I could.

And I was picked up by some North Vietnamese and taken to the hospital, where I almost died.

SAVIDGE: In 1967, Senator John McCain was Lieutenant Commander John McCain flying a Navy Sky Hawk on a mission to bomb a power plant in North Vietnam. He was shot down, captured, and imprisoned five- and-a-half years. Despite abuse and humiliation, he refused to even bow to his captors, which led to daily beatings.

MCCAIN: Oh, I hated that guy. I hated that guy. Yes, if I saw him today, I'd probably go after him, you know. I've been all for the normalization of relations and restoration of friendship between our two countries, but that guy...

SAVIDGE: Standing up to brutal interrogators was a duty, but every man had his limits and McCain finally broke.

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's a big deal, because you say things that aren't true. Part of that statement I condemned my own country, you know, saying that my country was engaged in a warmongering. I've forgotten now their language that they used, but look, you can put a dress on a pig but it's still a pig. I failed, and that's something that I've lived with ever since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name and nationality.

LT. LAWRENCE RANDOLPH SLADE: Lieutenant Lawrence Randolph Slade (ph), 614 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fighter squadron, aiding targets in western (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SAVIDGE: A generation later, propaganda statements are still a big prize, a way for a weaker adversary to take on a superpower.


DURANT: Yes, we call that video exploitation. I think it's pretty well expected that that's going to happen.

SAVIDGE: In 1993, Mike Durant was flying one of two Army helicopters shot down in Mogadishu. It was a mission to arrest warlords who had brought anarchy to Somalia. For the people in the streets, the Black Hawks were trophies, even more valuable the wounded pilot.

DURANT: In the morning on October 4th, they asked if I would make a video and I said no, but I also realized that if they decided to show up with a camera there was nothing I could do to stop them from filming me.

I'm a Black Hawk pilot.

I was thinking how to deal with each and every question the way I had been trained. I can't get into the details of it but what I can tell you is that it gives you a strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You kill the people innocent?

DURANT: Innocent people being killed is not good.

SAVIDGE: He dodged the question but used the video to send a message home that he was alive.

DURANT: It became my life insurance policy because until that point no one knew where I was, so had anything happened to me in captivity no one would have been the wiser.

SAVIDGE: The U.S. demanded Durant's release, which came 10 days later. As for making it through the ordeal, Durant credits the rigorous training of the Army's Survival School.

DURANT: They take it about as far as you can take it in a training environment.

SAVIDGE: In the mock prison camp, the interrogation is realistic and stressful.

SGT. KEITH: It's mental chess. They will take you over the limit if you don't maintain control of yourself.

SAVIDGE: We can not show you what goes on in the interrogations. This part of the training is classified, but research published by an Army psychologist offers a glimpse at what students undergo.

The scientist measured extreme levels of stress hormones in students after interrogations, twice as high as in first-time skydivers, four times as high as in pilots landing for the first time on aircraft carriers. All that stress temporarily drives the male hormone testosterone to castration levels.

MAJ. GARY HAZLETT, ARMY PSYCHOLOGIST: About a third of our guys will measure at a point at which they're no longer producing viable semen, so they're basically shooting blanks at that point.

SAVIDGE: Although it may not always be apparent, safety is built into the training. A psychologist and two medics blend in with the captors. They're on duty 24 hours a day, but the guards appear to be plenty mean, mean enough to evoke strong emotions from the prisoners.

SGT. ERIC, STUDENT: There was a few people out there that were starting to resent some of them, you know, and they were like man, I hate that guy's guts and blah, blah, blah, like that.

SAVIDGE: But it has a purpose. What the instructors hope to teach can be summed up quite simply, they want the soldiers to understand that if they're captured, there's a difference between being a prisoner of war and a prisoner at war.

GEHRUNG: The enemy is the enemy and if you can't fight the enemy on the battlefield, then you take the fight to them in captivity.

SAVIDGE: When we return, an experience so powerful it brings grown men to tears.


SAVIDGE: Survival School unleashes powerful emotions. For some of the instructors, playing the role of prison guard has a personal meaning. Elmer Adams was a Special Forces soldier in Vietnam. He volunteered for a mission to free American POWs.

ADAMS: We thought it was a great idea. In fact, everybody there thought it was a great idea, thought it was the most fantastic thing since peanut butter. Let's put it that way.

SAVIDGE: It's an emotional subject for him even now more than 20 years later, as U.S. soldiers are at risk in the war against terrorism.

ADAMS: God forbid that they get captured. You have to train this guy and give him the tools that he needs to survive captivity that when he gets home he looks in the mirror in the morning when he shaves and he says to that guy that's looking back at him, I survived. I returned with honor. I did the very best I could and that's what we're trying to do.

SAVIDGE: Why is this so emotional for you to talk about?

ADAMS: Because it is, because a lot of guys did not come home, because a lot of guys spent a lot of time and spent a lot of time in captivity. A lot of guys took a lot of torture. A lot of guys were bruised. They were hurt, broken bones, a lot of things happen to guys in captivity that I think with the proper training it maybe wouldn't have been that bad.

SAVIDGE: Sergeant Glen experienced captivity firsthand in East Germany where he grew up. As a teenager in 1973, he tried to escape to the West, was caught, and imprisoned for 18 months.

SGT. GLEN: It's not an experience that I like to remember. It was very hard. The food was very minimum. I was, for the first four months almost daily beatings, beatings, interrogations. I don't know how many times my nose was broken. Thanks to Uncle Sam, it was fixed here about four or five years ago. I had lost teeth they had kicked out because I would not cooperate, would not answer questions that they had asked me.

SAVIDGE: After a human rights organization negotiated his release, he became a U.S. citizen, a Special Forces soldier, and a man with a mission.

SGT. GLEN: I had definitely learned the hard way on how to survive and how to make it through, and I want to be able to share that with the students that come through here so that they don't have to learn the hard way.

SAVIDGE: For the students, the training is often a life changing experience. They confront situations a real prisoner might face and where the choices are between bad and worse, they inevitably make mistakes.

SGT. SHAY: At first you're like, you get down on yourself. As soon as you start talking to your peers, you're over it. Oh, man, I really shouldn't have done that. Hey guys, I'm sorry, I gave up this. Oh, man, don't worry about it, I did that too.

SGT. KEITH: As soon as you have that recognition with one other person, you're like, all right, cool, let's go. I'm ready for the next one.

SAVIDGE: For many the experience leads to introspection, figuring out what is important in their lives. Faith in God, family, fellow soldiers, all can provide strength. After several days of captivity, the students are changed men. In the final hours, while the students face their prison cells, the enemy flag is replaced with the Stars and Stripes. It is their symbolic liberation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I really have no words for how I felt because it was just something I'd never felt before. I've never seen or felt emotions like that.

SAVIDGE: The emotions are a combination of relief, pride, and patriotism, and hopefully, say the instructors, these new graduates have the confidence to face whatever comes next. When you hammer steel, you make it harder.


BROWN: Army officials say more soldiers than ever before need this advanced survival training. In today's battles, enemy forces can often blend in with everyone else. The front lines can zigzag to a city or through rugged mountains if you can find the front lines at all.

So the Army wants to expand the training, expand it to accommodate 6,000 soldiers a year, a six-fold increase and a sign of the times. That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. We'll see you next week.




Back to the top