Survival skills and knowledge must be learned-and practiced-under realistic conditions. Starting a fire with dry materials on a sunny day, for example, will teach you very little. The real survival skill is in understanding why a fire won’t start and working out a solution. The more you practice, the more you learn. Finding solutions and overcoming problems continually adds to your knowledge and, in most cases, will help you deal with problems should they occur again. There are differences between teaching survival courses to civilians and teaching them to military personnel. Civilians have enrolled on (and paid for) a course to increase their knowledge and skills, not because their life may depend on it (although, should they find themselves in a life threatening situation, it may well do), but because they are interested in survival techniques in their own right. In contrast the majority of military personnel who undergo survival training may very well need to put it into practice, but they invariably complete the training simply because they are required to do so. While no one in the military forces would underestimate the importance of survival training, it is a fact that if you want to fly a Harrier, or become a US Marine Mountain Leader, survival training is just one of the many courses you must undertake.
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In the military, we categorize the four basic principles of survival as protection, location, water, and food. Protection focuses on your ability to prevent further injury and defend yourself against nature and the elements. Location refers to the importance of helping others to rescue you by letting them know where you are. The principle of water focuses on making sure that even in the short term, your body has the water it needs to enable you to accomplish the first two principles. Food, while not a priority in the short term, becomes more important the longer your situation lasts. We teach the principles in this order, but their priority can change depending on the environment the condition of the survivor, and the situation in which the survivor finds him- or herself.