We’ve talked about the whole “Grey Man” thing in the past and in certain situations yes you should endeavor to blend into your surroundings and become the grey man, but as far as Selection, I’m sticking by my earlier observations and say that it isn’t a smart thing to do.
I’ve gotten questions and emails about being the grey man and to me, trying to do so unless you’re a trained professional will have the opposite effect. So my advice is simple… Don’t.
I know this goes contrary to what some cadre members of Selection courses tell candidates and we’ll get to my feelings on that below. But first you say, when is it a good time to be a “grey man?”
One is if you are either in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training or in a live situation. Then the last thing you want to stand out in any way. Standing out then usually rates a beating…or worse. Being the biggest or the most senior guy in the SERE Class is not a good way for being the grey man. The SRO (Senior Ranking Officer) is always singled out for real or perceived rules infractions….you get the idea. Once you get thru the Selection process and into the training pipeline, you’ll get to experience SERE up close and personal and all of your questions will be answered.
The second example of when it is a good time to be a “grey man?” Is if you’re doing some kind undercover intelligence work. Then you want to blend into your surroundings and if someone saw you walking down a busy street in an urban environment, you wouldn’t raise an alarm and even surveillance operatives watching for this type of operation wouldn’t be put on alert. That has a lot to do with demeanor, dress, mannerisms, and movement. Special Forces has a training program that teaches all of this and much more. But the course and the acronym associated with it will come after your training is complete and you move on to do great things in the operational units.
So back to the situation at hand, why not the “grey man” in Selection? And again this goes against what everybody who has passed Selection puts out on every blog, message board, and social media. I see it all the time, “Be the grey man” or something remotely similar.
Well as a former Selection cadre member I’ll tell you…in the simplest of terms why you shouldn’t do that. First and foremost, it will put a great big, fucking bulls-eye on your back.
As I mentioned before, most people don’t know how or aren’t trained properly in being a grey man. And if you … and most of you will do exactly this, look like you’re trying to blend in the background? Then to a cadre member, it looks like you’re trying to “ghost” thru events as we called it then. And if a guy is going to ghost in Selection, then he certainly will on a team.
In another previous post, I mentioned that one of the other cadre members and I would wander around the candidate’s barracks at night when we had the night duty, with soft caps, no berets or anything that would stand out. We wanted to hear the chatter of the class and see how well or not-so-well they were holding up.
Especially during team week, these conversations would sometimes be quite telling. More than once we heard candidates who passed their patrol, (the criteria has since changed) talk about coasting thru the last few events and make it thru the long-range movement. Bad idea.
Then there were others, guys who passed their patrol and were volunteering to help out the next day’s guys who would be in the barrel. More than once we heard conversations similar to this, “Hey bud, whatever happens, tomorrow, put me on lashings, I’m really good at that, and that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.” That’s the guy I want on my team. He’s not done yet, he’s looking out for his teammates. He’s going to get peer reported highly.
Special Operations isn’t looking for cookie-cutter robots. SOF understands that everyone is different and there are certainly guys who are characters and you’ll undoubtedly have some in your class. Be yourself. Our cadre members when I was there was the most eclectic group of people that I’ve ever worked with. There was never a dull moment and everyone although vastly different, respected the fact who each one of us was.
If you’re a rah-rah type of guy, (Word of caution don’t say “Hooah” there) then be that guy. If you are a quiet, lead by example type of guy, that’s fine…be him. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Sometimes the characters of the class would lift everyone around him.
My own class in the SFQC had “CPT Camouflage” during Land Nav. One of the guys would wear some outlandish get up of PT Shorts hiked way too high, jungle boots, with a poncho, pulled over his head like a cape with eye holes cut out. He’d run through the wood line offering the craziest encouragement “To lost Land Nav Students everywhere” and as dumb as it sounds, our class loved it. And after a day…or so, the cadre would ask if “Captain Camouflage” had any words for the class after we’d return from the day’s or night’s navigation practice.
Now that has to be tempered with a bit of common sense. Don’t be mouthy or argumentative with the cadre…not good. Don’t be a “Spotlight Ranger” either. And please spare your war stories about leading an attack with 18th Mess Kit Repair Unit in Iraq or someplace else. Nobody cares about that or is interested.
Remember you are ALWAYS being evaluated and assessed. This is a time for the cadre to see if you are Special Operations material. And this is your time to figure out if this life really is for you. Some guys go thru the Selection course and realize that this isn’t for them. And there isn’t any shame in that. Stay the course and bow out at the end.
Selection is the first step in the process of showing you belong in the Regiment. Trying to do so by blending in the background doesn’t sound like the way to do it. Be yourself, excel and …”Do the best you can.” (Yes you’ll hear that again.)
Photo courtesy: US Army
This article was originally published on SpecialOperations.com