A good friend of mine is a career law enforcement professional here in New England and although we don’t hang out on a regular basis, whenever we run into one another we’ll stop and catch up. So weaving around a stoppage in the road a few weeks ago, I saw my friend trying to make sense of a hopeless mess that is traffic around here and he told me that his son had graduated high school and had enlisted and was heading to a Special Operations unit, after his basic training …which is, provided he passes his courses.
This wasn’t a surprise to me at all, I’ve known his son for the past three years since a friend of mine who was taught the high school journalism class asked me to go to his classroom and talk about my roundabout way of working my way into a journalist’s job. It wasn’t the classic way of going to college and getting out and breaking in as a youngster. And like clockwork, every spring my friend would ask me to come to speak to his sophomore class until he passed away much too young recently.
Most of the kids would ask about the New England Patriots since I have another gig writing about them for an NFL website. I won’t call it a job, since my wife tells me that going down to Gillette Stadium to watch guys play football and then talk to football players isn’t a job, it is just a fun way to get paid. And with that, I can’t argue. So the kids would want to know about Bill Belichick, Tom Brady et al except for one kid.
Since I knew his father from law enforcement, he knew my background in Special Forces and he’d want to talk about the military and all things about the different Special Operations units. He made it clear when he was a sophomore that as soon as he graduated high school that he was enlisting and although his parents wanted him to go to college first, that was his plan. And he didn’t deviate during the next few years. In fact, whenever his dad and I would talk, he’d say all his son wanted to talk about was enlisting as soon as he finished school and wanting to be part of SOF.
Since a few weeks ago, we have been trying to find a convenient time in our schedules for all of us to sit down, as now that the time is growing near, he wanted to pick my brain one final time before embarking on his experience.
His parents are justifiably proud of him and his decision and they know this isn’t something he thought about for a very short amount of time, so they know he’s serious and will be “all-in”, but being parents are also (again justifiably) worried about the world situation. And they’d like me to give him some final advice. And it is easy…
- Enjoy the Process: Soak up every second of your time in the military and get the absolute most out of it. As we’ve said here on these pages many times, the military is what you make of it. For several months you won’t be where you eventually hope to be. But the ends will justify the means. Don’t be discouraged by the regular military. There will be times when it seems that time and the basic part of your training will go by interminably slow. That will change quickly once you get to your Selection class.
- Surround Yourself With Positive People: No matter where you go and what you do in the military, there are going to be very positive, upbeat people and negative Nancys who see a cloud in every sunny day. Ignore the noise, and cull any of the toxic MFers right out of your circle. Their toxic BS is poison, avoid them at all costs. Tune out the rumor mill and never listen to any of it. 99.9 percent of them are total science fiction. Find the upbeat, positive people in your class and hang with them. Their positivity will rub off on you and vice versa. You won’t be up all the time and neither will they, but the positive people make the courses fun. And there is no reason why even hard work can’t be fun. My SFQC course had one of the best soldiers and funniest guys I ever served with, CW3 Ret. Danny Averitt (RIP). His alter ego in the course was “CPT Camouflage” who kept the students (and cadre) in stitches. Years later in Group, guys would still ask about Danny about “the Captain”. We miss both of them.
- Selection Is Only the Gateway: Remember any of the Selection courses is just a crack in the door to get you in the pipeline. Once again, it isn’t going to be easy and you’re going to be tired, hungry and sore. That is what the courses are designed for, whether it be SFAS, RIP, BUDS or anything else. This is the reason you enlisted, don’t worry about next week, next month or anything else. Take it a day at a time, if necessary, half a day at a time. As we’ve stated here often “Embrace the Suck” and like the above paragraph, surround yourself with positive people. Be yourself and throw yourself completely into it and let the chips fall where they may. At a minimum, you’ll have no regrets on how things work out.
- Be a Rucker: No matter what your job is in Special Operations, or your unit, you’ll have to become intimately familiar with your rucksack and carry a lot of weight in it. The better you are at rucking, the easier things will be for you at your unit and in your job. We have published several articles on how to become better at humping the pain pill. And there is no magic formula to it, it is just practice and preparation. But rucking is just a part of (a big part) overall physical fitness. Always strive to be in the best possible shape you can be in.
- Team Players Are Always in Vogue: While we all have watched Rambo and Braddock, the thing to remember is that those are films. No one wants a lone wolf, you have to be a team player and a guy who everyone wants on their team. Learn your job backward and forwards and learn everyone else’s. Stuff will happen and you may be tasked to do someone else’s job in a pinch. Be a problem solver and always keep your head about you.
- Don’t Ever Quit: Believe that nothing is impossible and that will be the truth. Contrary to what you’ll be told, passing these courses is probably 70 percent mental and only 30 percent physical. Don’t worry about feedback from the cadre, if none is forthcoming. As long as you are standing in formation, you are good to go and only worry about things you can control. You don’t have to look like an NFL linebacker or run as fast a marathon runner to pass. Just remember, everything you do is under a microscope and you’re always being assessed.
Starting a career in Special Operations is a huge step for anyone, especially a young man just out of high school. There is a long, long way to go but the end result is worth the journey. Standing in the formations as part of the SOF units means you are continuing the legacy of excellence that your predecessors passed down to you. Strive to not just meet the standards, but set even higher ones.
Photo: U.S. Army