This is the time of year when the Selection courses are in full swing and the guys…and gals who want to be part of Special Operations units are deciding to get ready and give it their best shot at becoming members in the best fraternity in the world.
The US military has embraced Special Operations Forces after many decades of hating on “elite units” and the services have a unified command structure to ensure they all work well with each other as well as conventional units. The services have plenty of specialized units with varying missions and each has their own specialties carved out thru years of intense training. Whether it be the Army, Navy, Air Force, or the Marines, each service has their own Special Operations Forces. And all of them are excellent.
For our purposes, we’re going to deal with the US Army Special Forces, popularly known as the “Green Berets.” Having been in Special Forces units for more than a decade in the military, it is easy to say, there’s no place better to be. But the rest of what you’ll read here will serve you well regardless of your choice of unit.
Some of you’ve may have already decided that Special Forces is for you and you’re getting ready to prep for SFAS and a chance to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course or “Q” course. Good. That’s the easy part.
First and most importantly, Is your head screwed on straight? Are you wanting to be SF to be a part of the best and willing to put everything into your choice? If so, then you’re definitely on the right track.
Now to dispel some myths. We’ve all heard the wives’ tales and myths of the Special Forces soldier, right? “You have to be 10-feet tall and bulletproof.” LOL, don’t laugh. “SF guys have to have the athletic ability and look like NFL players.” Having gone thru the Warrant Officer Candidate School at Ft. Rucker with a former defensive lineman for the NY Giants (but in a different MOS), I can tell you with 100 percent certainty, we looked nothing alike.
There isn’t any big secret about passing selection, in fact to those of us who worked out there the saying used to be, “the answer is so simple that it is hard.” It is all about you the individual. Selection is 70 percent mental and 30 percent physical. And not the reverse. You don’t have to look like an NFL linebacker to pass the course as I mentioned above. I certainly didn’t and the vast majority of guys I finished with didn’t either.
In fact, most of the guys who looked like that passed by the wayside, it becomes simply a matter of mind over matter. You will have to want it and won’t let anything stop you from reaching that ultimate goal. That may sound a little simplistic but that is it in a nutshell. So, after getting several emails about Selection and the tips of the trade to be selected…here they are…(Cue the Dating Game music and spin the board around. OK, I dated myself there.)
#1 – Don’t Ever Quit: There will be times when you are exhausted beyond belief, between either selection or the Q-course and that is when the SF guys get separated from the other guys who thought they wanted to be there.
Selection is a test of will, nothing more. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you and focus only on what you’re doing today. Get thru the day and don’t worry about what comes tomorrow. That doesn’t exist. Sometimes and during some training events, you can’t even look past the next few hours or smoke sessions. Be standing there when it is over, that may be your goal. Survive until lunch, if you get it. Be there at sundown when guys are dropping like flies all around you.
You’ll get no feedback from the cadre other than the stock “do the best you can”, and I for one think that’s the best way. Special Forces doesn’t want or need guys who must have constant reassurance. They want soldiers who will go the extra mile and keep on going. If the cadre members don’t tell you anything, then you’re good to go. When you think you’ve reached Hell…keep going. It WILL get hotter.
#2 – Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Don’t come to Selection fresh from being a couch potato. There are plenty of guides on how to properly prepare for the rigors of the course and they all will get you into the arena. You don’t have to be the fastest runner, but it certainly won’t hurt. But the biggest obstacle in your path is your rucksack. Soldiers who can strap the big pain pill on and continue to drive on are what the cadre are looking for.
Soldiers who came from a light infantry or a Ranger battalion will have already mastered that art. For soldiers coming from a different background, that is where they are sailing into uncharted waters. And that is where the will to continue comes in. Even the most hardened troops get worn out and tired, that is what the course is designed to do.
If you want a good PT program, there are plenty of great ones on the internet. I am no professional physical trainer, but I did work at Selection so I believe I know what works. And this being our site, I will recommend our PT Training Program here:
I recall the adage that fatigue makes cowards of us all is quite telling but not entirely true. The Special Forces soldier won’t give in to his fatigue and keep on going. If you allow doubt to creep into your mind, you are already defeated. So tip #1 ties into tip #2. In my post-SF life, I’ve had the privilege of covering the NFL and one of the most intriguing people I’ve met is Bill Belichick the coach of the New England Patriots. He has stated that if a player is thinking about retiring, then he’s already retired. It is the same thing. If you allow doubt to creep into your mind, that little voice will screw you every time.
#3 – Don’t Worry About What the Instructors: As soldiers, we’ve been weaned on immediate feedback. As basic trainees or boots, everything you did was wrong. Forget all that. It’s over. Time to use your head, that is that lump three feet above your ass. Give it your all and when the event is over, forget it, it is in the past. Focus on the next one and try to do even better.
Too many times I saw candidates withdraw because of the lack of feedback from the instructors they took as a sign that the instructors want them to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth.
They’ve been where you are and experienced all the same things. They want to see you succeed. But only if you meet the standards. Then they’ll be happy to be standing next to you in the Regiment. You may not think so today, but you will see soon enough.
#4 The Gray Man: My views on this run counter what you’ll read everywhere else but here it is. And this is one of those subjects I feel strongly about so my take on this is a bit biased. So, you can take it for what it is, ignore it, or tell me to GFY.
You’ll hear many people tell you to be the “Gray Man” in SFAS, and if that means to you, just keeping a low profile while doing the best that you can, then that is fine. But to others it means trying to purposely fly under the radar, to hide behind the masses. You know who those types are, and you’ll find some in your class. Whenever as a Selection Cadre member, I’d see someone trying to ghost during team events and do just enough to get by while some guy was in the spotlight in being assessed in a leadership position, I’d evaluate that guy very poorly.
Everybody’s different. Certain guys (Many SF guys) are Type-A personalities and are demonstrative, take charge guys. Others are more quiet, low-key and lead by example types. Be yourself. The cadre will know by then which type you are. If you are a guy who by his nature is one of those personalities who motivates people by being a stud or by making people laugh (which we’ll get to), then do it. That is WHO you are. Every team needs those kinds of people and you won’t be judged harshly if that is who you truly are.
You came to Special Operations to be part of the top 1 percent in the military. That doesn’t mean to go beating your chest every time you accomplish anything. That will put a bullseye on your back quickly. And if you’re looking to slide under the radar in training, then you’ll do it on a team. As a cadre member, I didn’t evaluate too kindly on those trying that either. Screw the gray man, be yourself.
#5 Laugh Every Day and Find the Humor in Everything: One of the things we preach all the time is and #5 could easily be called “Embrace the Suck”. And that follows along with everything else It is going to be hard, it will suck. You WILL be tested and no doubt, you’ll have your dick (metaphorical, I know we have women now), dragging into the dirt at some point. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or at times even funny.
There should be times every day when you find the humor in the crazy shit that you’ll be asked to do. And it will accomplish a couple of things. One is that it will break the tension that builds up during the course, especially as things progress. And it will surprisingly build your morale up, more than you’d believe…time for an SF anecdote.
Carrying some very heavy shit one day, I believe it was, by the weight of it, a section of a high-rise skyscraper, we slowly heaved it up and placed it on our rucks and immediately shrunk an inch. Yours truly wasn’t having a good day, I was sick with the flu, still had the remnants of dysentery from my last deployment and felt like a horse apple.
One of my buds looked over and said, “Steve, you just made a great face when you lifted that. You missed your calling bro…you should have gone into porn.”
Tension broken, we all laughed our butts off, and the rucks got lighter. The rest of the day was much easier.
Photo: US Army