Since the television show, “The Selection, The Special Operations Experiment” came out on the History Channel many of my non-military friends and family have come forward asking how realistic the training was being depicted and if that was the actually the way it was. The show was based on a British television show “SAS: Who Dares Wins” which placed civilians in the world of the British military’s toughest training.
And of course, the answer is yes and no. The training depicted on the show looked completely authentic and none of it was canned like the typical reality television show BS that we all subjected to on a daily basis. But it was exactly what it was, a blend of the different courses that one may volunteer for in today’s Special Operations Forces. In that aspect, it was a great, albeit glimpse into what makes the Selection courses so tough.
But the biggest takeaway I get from people who have watched the show is, that once you pass the Selection course, you’re blessed and part of the unit. Let’s pump the brakes a bit right there.
Passing Selection isn’t the end or even the beginning of the end, but if anything, the end of the very beginning. Passing the Selection course only opens the door for a candidate a very slight crack. Once a candidate has passed Selection, now that candidate is worthy only to see whether or not he can take to the training.
And the training courses are just the beginning. Selection, as we’ve said in earlier articles never stops. And becoming part of a Special Operations unit doesn’t finish with your graduation of the specific course. It is the start of an entirely new lifestyle and the training is constant and ongoing. I think the biggest misconception about the show, which was very good by the way is that people watching it come away with the perception that the Selection course makes you a SEAL, Green Beret, Ranger…etc.
The instructors, taken from the different services and different career fields brought their own dose of realism to the civilians who attempted to try the selection course. There weren’t any Hollywood actors barking out harassment. These were real combat vets who acted just like they will in the real McCoy.
That was an interesting dynamic where they had Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and Rangers as instructors and they seemed like they’d been working together for quite a long time. Each of the different schools is unlike each other in their own way, but they all share common core qualities.
The civilians were a confident, cocky lot at the beginning, and that is the first thing that would disappear in an actual selection course. Showing up confident and cocky is an exercise in pain as the instructors will show that the candidates have no reason to be.
The training was interesting in that they weaved different facets of every course in there. Every person who’s ever been in the armed services has experienced the gas chamber where that is a basic training type of event but they also had to deal with interrogation, the physical training on the beach and in the surf, hand-to-hand combat, drown-proofing, and physical wearing down of their bodies that they had never experienced before.
The eye-opening experience for the candidates who were only referred to by their number, much like SFAS is that it isn’t the physical side of things that wears them down but the mental side of it. The perception that everyone in Special Operations is 10 feet tall and built like a linebacker gets shot down pretty quickly. The services can train operators physically to do most anything within reason.
But the mental aspect can’t be trained. Either a candidate has it or doesn’t and that mental fortitude is what the instructors are searching for. Everyone is going to get worn down physically, they know that. But it is the candidates that keep driving on with little to no sleep and keep their wits about them when they’re physically beat down, will be the successful ones.
The one part of the show that is the most realistic? At the end, there are no prizes for the “winners”, no follow-on television special, or a studio waiting with a big contract. There is just the satisfaction of knowing you were “selected”. And true to form, the numbers whittled down to just a few.
Unlike the civilians who finished the show and got to go home, the real candidates that navigate Selection, get to catch their breath and prepare for the next phase of their training. And combat tours await in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and now possibly Yemen among a hundred other hot spots around the globe where Special Operations Forces operate in the shadows.
So, just remember, the television show ended with final candidates being selected. For their military counterparts, that is just the beginning.