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Self-reliance, resilience and survival during a crisis PART II 

Editorial Advisory Panel Member Christo Motz provides a further update on his work in survival and crisis preparedness.

Day 8: September 15, 2011


The recent week has been very intense. On the morning of Friday, September 9, a meeting took place in the centre of Stockholm with Mr Anders M. Johansson and Mrs Leni Björklund, representatives of the Swedish Civil Defence League. We discussed the possibilities for further collaboration between Sweden, the Netherlands and other EU countries in the field of civic-self-reliance and crisis preparedness.

Wilderness survival

Afterwards I was picked up close to the Värtahamnen ferry terminal in Stockholm harbour by three Estonian military survival instructors and a Swedish survival instructor. The five of us drove approximately 80km south southwest to Kvarsjöns-Gnesta.

Surrounded by pristine lakes and forests, lies a traditional red-brown painted wooden scouting-house, owned by the Estonian community for many decades.

From Friday till Sunday afternoon 21 survival instructors from Sweden, Finland, Estonia and myself from the Netherlands gathered and discussed such topics as 'survival psychology', 'wilderness medicine' and 'the physiology of basic needs'.

Interestingly, many of these thoughts and skills are quite common in the Scandinavian survival world.

The knowledge and understanding of one's own physical and psychological system forms the basis of survival; the interaction with the environment can be very challenging, especially when you have to deal with such remote and isolated areas.

This makes even more sense once you have travelled through the dense forests of Sweden, Finland and Estonia.

For this reason, a number of years ago, the Swedish Civil Defence League instituted the 'hug a tree' campaign for children. Across Sweden, if children become lost in the woods, they are taught to stay where they are and hug a tree immediately. A tree provides security, shelter and a fixed point, it prevents a person from panicking or from further exhaustion. Within search and rescue tactics, emergency search and rescue personnel will always start from a 'last point seen' and, most of the time, rescue within a short time frame is very likely. Thus, fairly simple, basic methods can make a large difference in matters of death and life.

The Swedish Survival Guild was founded at the beginning of the 1980s as a result of survival research led by the Swedish Army. The Guild is the oldest Swedish organisation for survival and outdoor life and its main goal is to spread survival knowledge, based on scientific research and documentation, with emphasis on the knowledge of a variety of indigenous people around the world.

There appears to be a tendency for further collaboration and exchange of information and skills between the Scandinavian countries and Estonia.

From a historical point of view this need for survival knowledge and skills in Finland has strong roots in the Finnish-Russian war between 1939-1940, when the Soviets invaded Finland. The Russian army suffered extreme losses owing to a partisan war, the extreme cold, the poor equipment and insufficient training of the average soldier.

The occupation of Estonia and the other Baltic independent states by the Soviet Union in 1940 caused a fierce resistance and led to massive bloodshed. Then, in 1941, Operation Barbarossa saw Nazi troops invading the Soviet Union and the Baltic states, massacring Jewish people and the Nazi’s political opponents. These events were followed by another Russian occupation in 1944.

Anti-Soviet fighters fought against occupation in Estonia up until the 1980s – Estonia has a history of around 800 years of war, resistance and invasions.

Though Sweden remained neutral in WWII, it became clear that the historical connections with Finland and Estonia remained.

After the independence of Estonia in 1991, Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland fully supported the new government by sending military equipment and additional survival training courses.

Combat survival

On Sunday afternoon on September 11, the three Estonian survival instructors and I went south west to Karlsborg by car; a four-hour drive.

In the evening we stayed overnight in the damp forests just outside the old garrison town and close to the shore of lake Vättern.

It was pouring down. I adjusted my DD-travel hammock between two trees and the Estonians put up a dark green tarp just above ground level, with enough space for at least six persons.

Again it became clear how skilled these men are, real forest people, with a natural understanding of nature's abundance. Within minutes a smoky campfire lit up the darkness; hot herb tea with small pieces of Birch bark, Juniper and Blueberries was served, along with basic food were served.

The next morning we were welcomed by Captain Owe Jansson, Head Training officer of the SERE School of the Swedish Armed Forces. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion and Escape, Resistance and Extraction, and was originally developed by the US-Army and adapted by the Swedish Armed Forces. Lars Fält, former Head Training Officer started the first military survival course in 1989-1990. SERE training among member nations is standardised according the NATO standardisation Agreement (STANAG).

SERE training consists of three levels:

  • Level C: High risk of isolation (HRI); Combat search and Rescue and Resistance training)
  • Level B: moderate Risk of isolation (MRI)
  • Level A: All military personnel during Basic Training and non-combatants in support of their units.

It is essential that everyone within the Armed Forces is SERE trained, because this forms a key element in a successful recovery and rescue operations strategy.

To me it seems clear that there is a strong connection between wilderness, combat and urban survival.

For a variety of purposes, either when an outdoor enthusiast is lost in the forests or mountains, a pilot crashed in the desert, or a firefighter and civilian stuck in a city during a massive black-out. All these people would need to know at least the essential principles of survival psychology and their basic needs in order to adapt and overcome life threatening situations.

Next week I will attend a military Urban Survival training course in the south of Sweden.

The next blog will deal with urban conditions during a massive black-out and strategies to survive such a worst-case scenario.

Christo Motz

 motz 2

1st Lt Erki Vaikre, Estonian Army and Christo Motz frying a fish on the campfire, just outside Karlstad. 

Christo Motz, 19/09/2011
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