My family moved to Colorado Springs in 1965 when my Dad was assigned to NORAD. I grew up playing in the mountains of Colorado. In fact, back then, we went up each year on Rampart Range and cut our family Christmas tree, so I knew the area where we did our survival training very well.
I had first leave in the summer of 1971, followed by SERE. One of my roommates had first SERE and I talked to him after he finished about the survival part. He explained that the time on Rampart Range at Saylor Park was very similar to Basic survival except there were bad guys chasing you.
I thought, “I’ve already proven that I can go a week without eating, no need to do that again.” So I got together with two of my high school buddies, went to King Soopers, bought a couple of bags of groceries and a six-pack of Coors and headed for the mountains. We drove up Rampart Range road, stopping periodically to dig a hole and cache some supplies for two weeks hence. The cold beer helped make the hole digging a little easier. We also picked a good rendezvous point for the emergency drop-off of supplies during the survival trek.
When we arrived on the mountain to start our survival training, we were assigned to groups of three for safety. Two groups were in a base camp together the first couple of days. I made the mistake of digging up the first cache while there were six of us, and the second group never left us after that. It did make the traveling and hiding a little more difficult with six instead of three.
When the trek began, the emergency drop-off of supplies occurred on schedule at 2 o’clock in the morning. My high school buddies were a welcome sight and we grabbed the package and ran back into the woods. The giant buckets with 42 pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes and the rest of the goodies were wonderful. We buried the evidence and headed on to finish the distance we had to make that night.
The last night, we picked up the last food cache and got ready to cross the “Border” to freedom. I’d forgotten that three weeks earlier, I’d thrown the last can of beer into the cache. I didn’t really fancy a warm beer so, without thinking, I tucked it into my pack. While crossing the border, I was caught and pinned to the ground. The aggressors asked, “Do you have any food, piggy?” My immediate answer was, “No! I ate it all.” They let me go, and I made the 100 yard dash to the border and safety. The only problem I had left was getting rid of the beer after I got back to the dorm. We won’t go there!
Bill Van Horn
9491 South Johnson Court
Littleton, CO 80127
USAFA Class of '74 - published a book of our experiences for our 40th reunion!