At Home in the Inhospitable
OFFGRID|Issue 47
We Interviewed Globe-Trotting Survival Instructor and Cold-Weather Expert Jerry Saunders of Corvus Survival
By Patrick Diedrich

In the turbulent world we all experience these days, too many people are finding themselves in survival situations that require knowledge or a skill that they haven’t yet acquired. Disrupted supply chains, extreme weather events occurring with increased frequency, and violent civil unrest have pushed millions of humans into scenarios where they discover a startling gap in their knowledge. Unfortunately, that realization may come too late, and the knowledge gap may lead to injury or even death. However, if you know where to look, there are instructors who have extensive training and experience in survival situations who are happy to pass along that lifesaving wisdom. Jerry Saunders — Marine veteran, bladesmith, and founder of Corvus Survival — is one such individual.

Jerry has an extensive background in a myriad of survival situations and is responsible for implementing the most comprehensive survival training course in the U.S. Marine Corps. When RECOIL OFFGRID connected with him, the opportunity to pick the brain of someone with such a distinguished background on the topic of staying alive was too fortuitous to pass up. Upon arrival to an undisclosed location in a nondescript building, we captured a glimpse of Jerry’s extraordinary accomplishments.

RECOIL OFFGRID: Tell us about your time in the service and what you did.

Jerry Saunders: My time in the military as a Marine was very eventful. I foolishly wanted to get right to the war part, but I didn’t know any better, so I got sold into Security Forces — fortunately as part of the Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team. Its acronym was F.A.S.T, so naturally we referred to it as the Fake Ass Seal Teams. You get a lot of good gear and damn good training, but at the end of the day, you’re doing expeditionary security anywhere in the world in 48 hours. I got shipped down to Cuba and did the famous fence line mission from A Few Good Men.

Our team was sent to Bahrain then into Turkey, where we were keeping an eye on Hezbollah. We ultimately ended up performing non-combatant evacuation operations with cruise ships and decommissioned ferries to help evacuate Americans from Lebanon in the early 2000s when they were getting into it with Israel. We sailed and cross-trained in Ireland, Spain, Jordan, Egypt, and provided security for ships in the Suez several times. In 2010, when the earthquakes decimated Haiti, our sniper team spent three months living on the beach and backpacking daily MREs drops to the affected mountain villages. I spent time in Iraq as a machine gunner working closely — sometimes too closely — with EOD. The last deployment I did was to Helmand province of Afghanistan as a Scout Sniper with the infamous 3/2 Scout Snipers. After deployment, they were looking for guys with fresh battlefield experience to fill instructor roles, and I got sent out to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California. I was there to instruct the Mountain Scout Sniper Course, but also realized that the USMC Survival program was no more. After months of pestering and a phone call from the other side of the world, they agreed to let me use the Sniper cadre to revamp and reinstate the survival program. Through this, many of us were able to go to courses all over the world, become internationally certified, and bring back that knowledge to produce the best product we could for the United States Marine Corps.

What were some of the most valuable lessons you took from your military experiences?

JS: Boiling it down to just a few is a tough one. The mind controls the body, and the body is a hell of a lot tougher than you think. Some people think you have to be old to have a ton of experience. A firefight can feel like its lasting a lifetime, but you just learned a thousand lessons in 4 seconds.

Put effort into the people beside you so that you can trust them when your life is at stake. The military offers you something that civilian life doesn’t typically, which is the opportunity for friends to prove themselves in some really sh*tty situations. You don’t normally see people’s loyalty displayed like that anywhere else. I think finding those people in your close community that are loyal and that you can network with is one of the most important things you can do. Invest in the people around you.

What led you to transition to teaching the general public?

JS: Nobody was teaching it quite like I was, and once I tried it, I was kind of blown away at the lack of knowledge the general public had. I had to dial things way back. In one class, a student actually asked me what part of the tree was the bark. So, I’ve developed my own blend of primitive/ modern/military survival, and I’ve made it so that everything is quantifiable. If you can quantify something, you can then replicate it, and replicating survival skills when you need them is the whole point. A huge thing for me was that it was a way to give back to a nation that supported me while I was in the military. Now I get to empower somebody to be self-reliant, and you always get the good feels when you do something like that. That alone is its own reward.

How did your military experience influence your approach to survival instruction?

JS: I have to say I’m incredibly fortunate. I’ve had a lot of training and many opportunities to get it right. I’ve also had a lot of opportunities to mess it up. Having such a large number of students means you get to learn a sh*tload of mistakes at once without even having to make them yourself. The military also gave me a good sense of organization. I’ve yet to experience any survival event, school, or bushcraft event where I thought the instructors had their skills down and could control the students. Managing people and holding their interest is an art. The military training I went through gave me a strong platform to base my instruction on. You’re being taught how to professionally stand in front of and transmit information to a large crowd of people, and the military trainers don’t take it easy because they want to produce a new generation of instructors that transmit the instruction well.

I was able to travel all over the world, and one of the most important lessons I learned was to pay attention to the locals in whichever region I was in. Food is the key. I used to dive for lobster in Cuba, and I would take them to the Jamaicans that worked there. Food works miracles (and a bottle of rum). But they showed me how they were cooked, and we ate, drank, and danced. After spending time in over 48 different countries and learning the various methods of how people went about living their lives, it has given me a wealth of knowledge and skills to draw from. A lot of people think that making a fire with a bow drill or killing rabbit for food by hitting it on the back of the head is the pinnacle of survival, but there is so much more to it than that.

How do you convince the average urbanite of the value of survival skills?

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