The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.
When we write here at SpecialOperations.com and have discussions with aspiring candidates for the various units, we tend to deal only with the positive. It is par for the course, by and large, the vast majority of us are those Type A, can-do personalities who are a glass-half-full type of people. We don’t deal in failure and won’t tolerate it. We focus on achieving everything that we set our sights on…it is who we are.
However, for the vast majority of candidates for the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forces, they will face adversity and in this case failure before attaining their goal. We’ve steered clear of this question for the most part in the past because we tend to only think positive, but what about the majority of the people who find that they have failed a part or all of the courses?
Why Do Candidates Fail: We know that the attrition rates in Selection are high, and the courses are designed exactly for that. So where do these candidates fall into the “unsuccessful” formation when all is said and done? Many get injured, through no fault of their own during the rigorous training. The vast majority of these candidates have an open path to return once they have fully healed and are once again ready to go.
Others will fail to meet the high standards that the services insist upon in Selection in one or more of the gated events physically or academically. The cadre at the Selection courses keep meticulous records for a reason. The candidates that fail to meet the standards will have their records closely evaluated and a decision will be made as to whether that individual is clear to return and try again.
Some candidates are recycled right into the next available class, which is the best scenario for everyone involved. This also happens many times with injured candidates whose injuries were of the minor category where the candidate heals up quickly. If these cases, most candidates are allowed to return in this scenario as well. The cadre will ensure the candidate knows why he failed and what would need to be done to rectify that unfortunate situation in the future.
The third group of candidates failed because they quit. That is a dicey can of worms there. When a candidate quits, there is a 99.9999 percent chance that he will not be allowed to return to Selection to try it again. The cadre members recognize that not everyone is cut out for Special Operations and many will fail to meet the standards. But as long as a candidate gives his all, that candidate will leave knowing that his efforts weren’t good enough but at least has an opportunity to fix the deficiencies that caused the failure. Quitting? That is too bitter a pill to contemplate.
How To Handle Failure? Here’s the elephant in the room. And remember this, even experienced operators will fail occasionally. Do you think every mission is a success? No, and it is in how we handle the adversity that we will judge ourselves and ultimately be judged by our peers.
I call your attention to the quote above, I also write for an NFL website, this weekend was the big cut-down for professional football players as teams had to cut their rosters from 90 players in training camp to a 53-man roster. So, at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, 1184 players not only failed to meet the standards but also lost their jobs as well. For most of them and you as well in Special Operations, how do you handle the adversity? It’s here now and isn’t a bad dream.
It’s time to get off the canvas and get back to work. Learn from this as you would any other training exercise where you were successful. Take stock of the good, the bad and if necessary, the ugly. Then embark on a course correction to retrain yourself on the tasks that need attention.
That is the Special Operations way, we aren’t going to dwell on the failure aspect of it, other than to admit to ourselves there was an issue that needs fixing. We don’t point fingers or blame others for our own shortcomings.
Others may decide to not return. Special Operations isn’t for everyone, and the attrition rates show that point clearly. It doesn’t mean that the candidate that tried…and failed is any less of a valued soldier. Many of those who fail, return to and excel in their home units. It is that excellence in the conventional military, that was the reason that they tried out for Special Operations in the first place.
Don’t let the failure rule your being, learn from it and become better for it. Many successful and very good special operators, didn’t pass their Selection and Qualification courses on the first attempt.
It is how we handle the adversity of a temporary setback that will ultimately show how we’ll be judged. If you get knocked on the canvas nine times, ensure you get back up ten. Don’t ever let a temporary failure stop you from giving it your absolute best. Go all out. When you get to Special Operations Selection, act like you are the third monkey on Noah’s Ark.
And it is raining like hell.
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