5 things everyone can learn from the U.S. Army Survival Manual

The single most important function of survival is to survive. Duh! Right? With the obvious statement out of the way, the question is how will you do that?

There are a number of tricks, tips, and expert opinions out there but are any of them credible? Much of this information is credible but I believe that some is more likely to be credible over the rest. This is where the knowledge and experience of the United States Military can come into play. Enter the U.S. Army Survival Manual…

One of the single greatest things I like about the U.S. Army Survival Manual is the fact that it is based around years of practical experience. That is hard to beat. It can be utilized by anyone, anywhere, and even with very little in the way of actual supplies or equipment. I know that my experience in the Army led me all over the world and I never had more than I could carry. Above all else, you will come away with a higher level of preparedness using the knowledge that is contained in the U.S. Army Survival Manual.

Here are some of the key items that we can all take away from reading the Army’s Survival Manual:

No. 1 – S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L.

This is the U.S. Army’s acronym to remember a series of survival actions that are designed to help any Soldier navigate a survival situation. While the primary audience of this manual is the Army, taking the time to read and understand the meaning of each survival action, I think anyone can use these steps regardless of any military affiliation.

S – Size up the situation (Surroundings, Physical Condition, Equipment)

Look at where you are and determine what your next step should be. Ensure that you are all-inclusive and cover additional areas of concern like your physical condition and the equipment that is available to you.

U – Use all  your senses/undue haste makes waste

Don’t act too quickly and risk making a mistake. Action for the sake of taking an action will serve no purpose. Use all of your senses to size up your situation.

R –Remember where you are

It is imperative to maintain an awareness of where you are at all times. Failure to maintain awareness of your location can lead to poor consequences in short time. If you have any hope of reaching help or getting away from a situation, you will need to always know where you are and where you are going.

V – Vanquish fear and panic

Fear and panic serve little benefit. If you are able to eliminate any sense of fear and panic, your overall chances of survival will improve. Cooler heads always prevail.

I – Improvise

Be flexible and capable of improvising solutions regardless of whether it is using something for a purpose other than it was designed or taking items you find along your way or in nature to create a solution to a problem.

V – Value living

There is always something to fight for. When the going gets tough, keep your focus on staying alive and fighting your way to survival no matter what it takes.

A – Act like the natives

This carries a different meaning in the military than it will in the civilian sector, but I see a good opportunity to employ the “gray man” theory in this situation. Always try to look like you fit in. The less noticeable you are, the better off you are likely to be in a survival scenario.

L – Live by your wits, but for now, learn basic skills

Your wits can keep you alive for sure. In the mean time, while you are not in a survival situation (hopefully), take the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and learn the skills that are vital to survival and being prepared.

No. 2 – You’ll gain a better understanding of the psychology of stress: why it’s good for you, bad for you, the physiological response of your body, and what you can expect to feel when you end up is a survival situation.

Some of the things that may end up happening in a survival situation can cause significant stress including

  • Injury, illness, or death
  • Uncertainty and lack of control
  •  Inhospitable environment
  • Hunger and thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Isolation

Knowing that these are routine stressors in survival situations, the U.S. Army Survival Manual addresses these and even goes into what the natural reactions that a person may experience in such a situation. This is great by itself, but you will also be given tools to help you train and prepare yourself to face these challenges.

No. 3 – “A survival plan is dependent on three separate but intertwined parts to be successful: planning, preparation, and practice.”

That is the opening line to the 3rd chapter of the Army Survival Manual and it could not be truer. You will also see the recognizable statement that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. So how will this survival manual show you how to plan, prepare and practice? I’m glad you asked!

Plan: “Survival planning is nothing more than realizing something could happen that would put you in a survival situation and, with that in mind, taking steps to increase your chances of survival.” (Army Survival Manual) Ensure that you look at your primary threats, but also consider possible contingencies, how you will deal with each of these, and what other factors should be considered in your plan.

Prepare: “Preparation means preparing yourself and your survival kit for those contingencies that you have in your plan. A plan without any preparation is just a piece of paper. It will not keep you alive.” (Army Survival Manual) Always ensure that your health is taken care of from a prevention standpoint. Have the best equipment, break it in, and be as familiar as possible with the area you’re in.

Practice: Practice carrying out your plan using the items that are in your kit. This allows you to clearly understand how your kit works and provides you the confidence that you will survive if you find yourself in a tough spot. If a skill or process is something you are struggling with or fear you might when facing stress, print out directions to put in your kit so that you can avoid potential life-threatening errors.

No. 4 – What goes in a survival kit?

A survival kit is not about seeing who has the most equipment, it is about function. The case for your kit should ideally be: water-repellent or water-proof, easy to carry or attach to your body, suitable to accept various-sized components, and durable.

This survival manual recommends dividing your kit into seven different categories: water, fire, shelter, food, medical, signal, and miscellaneous. The emphasis should remain on items that will allow you to sustain your basic needs with a focus on items that can be used for multiple purposes, if possible. Include a weapon if the situation dictates.

No. 5 – The basic components of survival medicine.

There are three basic requirements for health maintenance. They are:

Water – To avoid dehydration, help your body deal with stress, compensate for low food intake, and maintain your body’s chemistry.

Food – To maintain your mental and physical capabilities. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of the different categories of food and how you should consider prioritizing some food items over others.

Personal Hygiene – To maintain your personal hygiene, you’ll learn a field expedient way to make soap and get information on several focus areas including the importance of keeping your hands, hair, clothing and teeth clean, taking care of your feet, getting plenty of rest, and keeping your living area clean.

There are also several life-saving medical interventions that are covered in depth along with information on environmental injuries.

Interestingly enough, the five previously mentioned areas are less than the first 10 percent of what you can learn from the Army Survival Manual. I find that impressive. I’m sure you are curious about what else is covered and how is it of value to you. There are 19 more chapters and nine appendices that compose the rest of the manual. The remaining chapters cover:

  • Shelters
  • Water procurement
  • Firecraft
  • Food procurement
  • Survival use of plants
  • Poisonous plants
  • Dangerous animals
  • Field-expedient weapons, tools, and equipment
  • Desert survival
  • Tropical survival
  • Cold weather survival
  • Sea survival
  • Expedient water crossings
  • Field-expedient direction finding
  • Signaling techniques
  • Survival movement in hostile areas
  • Camouflage
  • Contact with people
  • Survival in man-made hazards

 

The appendices could almost be a book on their own. Of the different appendices, I think my favorite is Appendix A, Survival Kits, which outlines the components of six different Army survival kits. The other appendices are:

  • Edible and medicinal plants
  • Poisonous plants
  • Dangerous insects and arachnids
  • Venomous snakes and lizards
  • Dangerous fish and mollusks
  • Ropes and knots
  • Clouds: foretellers of weather
  • Evasion plan of action format

The last appendix mentioned is a great read if you are at all interested in the tactical side of things. Wolverines!

Hopefully I was able to successfully communicate how beneficial this one manual can be. I happen to have a physical copy of the U.S. Army Survival Manual in my preparedness library because if things go bad, this is one book that I want to have at the ready no matter what.

–Tom Miller

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