I know what you’re thinking,…” here’s this FOG (F***ing Old Guy) preaching again about being in the last hard class.” Okay, first let’s dispense with the myths and get right to the crux of the matter. Every Special Forces guy you will meet, regardless of era went thru the last hard class and everyone since then or before his was an absolute cakewalk.
It is true, ask anyone and you’ll bound to get the same answer. Years from now when some of you do get selected and sent to one of the Operational Groups, you’ll be doing the same thing. I swore back in the day, that I would never, ever do that. But then in my last year or so in the military, I was talking to a good friend of mine who was at the schoolhouse teaching SF medics and he was lamenting the quality of his latest class and we fell into the “man things were sure tougher when WE went thru the course.” Yikes!. “When did we turn into the old MFers that we used to make fun of?” But I digress
Passing Selection is the rite of passage for every Special Operations unit in the world. And that is why we are all here right? The courses are designed to be incredibly hard for a reason and a very good one. The operating environment that Special Operations many times must perform in is often extreme. Carrying a lot of gear on your back in the heat of Iraq, Syria or in the mountains of Afghanistan or 100 other places isn’t a walk in the park. And all the while you’ll have a determined, hardened enemy that is trying very hard to kill you.
So, we get all kinds of email from prospective Special Operations asking about what the secret is for getting selected and the magic elixir that’s required to pass. The short answer is, there isn’t one. It is so simple it is hard sometimes for young troops to get. So we’ll go thru the quick guide again and the first one is probably a total no-brainer.
Be in the Best Shape You Possibly Can Be: We’ve set out the physical training pieces that we’ve felt will help you prepare physically for the challenge that is ahead. And make no mistake you will be challenged. You will get smoked, rinsed off, dusted and do it all over again. There will be plenty of times where you are tired, hungry, beat up and mentally taxed. That is normal, it also is exactly what the course is designed to do, once you show up for selection.
But there is no reason to be in arguably the best shape in your life when you show up for selection. I know at times a lot of guys get hurt during their prep time and they are not all the way back by the time their class date begins. I’ve seen that as a cadre member and the only thing to do in Selection is to just gut it out the best way you can unless you are seriously injured, where you can’t do it. Then try to get your class date changed.
I was levied for SWC (Special Warfare Center), the schoolhouse while on a deployment to Central America back in the day. As soon as I got back, I was assigned to Selection and since I went thru the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course) in the days before SFAS, I had to attend the next class…the only issue? While down south I had got a case of dysentery and was still getting over it when reporting in …about 25 pounds light. Carrying the “Sandman” while having the screen door $hits isn’t the best way to go thru the course. So I feel your pain if you’ve had to endure the task with going thru Selection, while not at 100 percent thru no fault of your own.
Leave the Assessing to the Assessors: This is a big one and a total no-brainer. Far too many candidates take a look around themselves and the daunting task that is selection and psyche themselves right out of the course. They become so self-critical that they’ll convince themselves that they are doing terribly. It is a common trait among most successful people and many Special Operators that we are usually our own worst critics. But Selection isn’t the time for that part of your psyche to come out.
One class in SFAS, there was senior NCO who came from an LRSU unit and he positively smoked every run and ruck march during the course. But instead of being back in his unit where he was far out in front of every such event, in SFAS among many equally impressive troops, he wasn’t. He took it to mean he was performing substandardly when the total opposite was true. He self-assessed himself and did a poor job of it. He voluntarily withdrew until “I can get my shit together and come back to do the course right.”
You don’t know what or how the cadre is assessing you at any given time and that isn’t your job. To quote my favorite BB, “Do Your Job”. Let the cadre do theirs. If you’re still giving 100 percent every day and still standing there in the formation, that is all you should be worrying about. If you’re self-assessing yourself, you’ll be looking at a sad face in the mirror.
Remember, You Are Always Being Assessed: This will sound crazy perhaps but many of the candidates get off on the wrong foot on Day 1 and it can end up costing them down the road. Many of the young soldiers coming into Selection are focused on the physical side (which is good) but never forget that everything in Selection is evaluated which means…”everything”. And now I repeat it, (listen for the foot stomp as if in the classroom) “Assessment Never Ends”, you’ll hear this often. Remember it, file it away and don’t ever forget it.
You’ll be asked to take a battery of psychological tests and they’re quite lengthy. Some of the questions will seem odd (they are) and often make no sense. And you’ll get asked the same questions multiple times but it will be worded differently. It is designed that way to see if you’re telling the truth and taking it seriously. It is designed to identify potential psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies in some candidates.
While working at SFAS, there were a few, not a lot of soldiers who took this part of Selection as a joke, it isn’t. This isn’t the time to be cavalier or a smartass with your answers. It matters everything does. Not answering truthfully will raise its head in the test and it may ultimately cost you.
Another thing, from the time you sign in until the time that you sign out and return to your unit at the end of the course, you are being evaluated. Act like it and as if you under a microscope. There is no off time save for the few hours of sleep you’ll get.
Be a Team Player: This one is self-explanatory. Selection is an individual assessment conducted in a team environment. So yes, you’re being assessed as an individual. But part of that assessment and a VERY BIG part of it is how well you work within a team. Being part of a team is the very essence of what makes Special Operations and Special Forces in this case so successful.
Lone Wolves don’t cut it. You can ace every individual event but if you aren’t a team player, the cadre will notice and so will your peers. And peer evaluation can sink a soldier’s chances easily. Certain soldiers will have areas that they’re stronger in than their peers. A team player will recognize this and step up and help their teammates during team events. If they don’t help their teammates, then they’ll ultimately fail.
This is an area where many of the officers not selected ultimately fail. They perform very well when in charge of an event but balk at taking orders from lower-ranking candidates when it becomes their turn to lead an event. And “spotlight Rangers” who thrive when it is their turn in the box while being a leader, but then try to ghost into the background once it is over are easily spotted.
Don’t Be Late, Light, or Last: These three little sins are my favorites will get a candidate washed out and doing the duffel bag drag quicker than any other. And add a 4th, don’t be out of uniform. If there are 150 candidates standing there in PT gear and two guys show up are in fatigues, do you think that would fly?
You’re being assessed on your potential to be in one of the premier Special Operations units in the world. And showing up late ever or out of uniform isn’t the way to impress upon the cadre that you want to be there.
Unless things have changed drastically, at Selection the students are kept in the dark about what event is coming next until shortly before it happens. The cadre will update a dry erase board usually 15 minutes or so before the next event and will have the uniform that the candidates must be in. Most classes learn quickly to have a candidate from each hut placed outside near the board to keep everyone apprised of updates.
Being light is a cardinal sin and there is no excuse for it. Your rucksack has to weigh what they said it must weigh and it is always the weight specified without food and water. The instructors will always use the same scales that the candidates use so there will never be a discrepancy there. If the standard says 45 pounds, then 44 pounds,15 ounces is a fail. That doesn’t mean to go overboard either.
One winter class in SFAS, one candidate came in straggling at the rear. His rucksack weighed 75 pounds! That didn’t curry favor with the instructors, in fact, it had the opposite effect. Be safe, and err on the side of caution and be in the green but don’t overdo it. A pound or two over the limit won’t hurt you physically and gives the psychological reassurance that you’re well within the standards.
Being last is, next to being light the kiss of death in selection. One has to be pragmatic here. Do the math, the failure rate for selection is high, even those who make it to the very end of the course aren’t guaranteed to be selected, so being last in any event isn’t a good thing. But one event isn’t going to sink you or your chances if you do well in everything else.. We’ll expand on this more below but you never, ever want to be the last guy in at anything.
Ignore the Noise: The SFAS “rumor mill” used to kill me. There is something about Selection that turns good, troops into a ladies’ sewing circle. This goes right along with self-assessment. Listening to the rumor mill is an unnecessary drain on your energy and serves no purpose. And invariably the rumors are as wrong as the National Enquirer, to begin with unless you’re a fan of “Men in Black.”
Many nights, my bud Doug P. and I as well as other cadre members would move between the huts dressed as the candidates were and gauged their reactions to the training for the day. And to check to see if candidates were sleeping before lights out or eating in the barracks, (heel stomp…you’re always being assessed back up to #2). By the second week of the course, they rarely if ever noticed our presence as cadre.
And by far, the rumor mill was always the most entertaining. As the course went along the rumors always got better. By Team Week, many of the candidates were so burned out, we’d have long conversations with some and they never knew they were talking to cadre members.
My advice to candidates is to have a book handy. When the rumors start flying, save your energy and brain matter and read a book.
Sounds like a walk in the park right? And yeah, Don’t quit!
Photo: US Army