“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.” – Bruce Lee
“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character.” – Winston Wolfe -Pulp Fiction

One of the things that will be given a lot of weight during Selection is a candidate’s character. And it is going to show through during the events and tests that the class will conduct during their time in the barrel.

But first, what is character and why is it important? The book definition defines character as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Simply put it, a person with “good” character has honorable traits and values such as honesty, integrity, responsibility, and courage. They will invariably do the right thing regardless of whether it is physically dangerous or a detriment to their career.

No one is born with good character, it comes from and is formed and revealed by how one deals with everyday extraordinary pressures, situations, and temptations. Selection will put the candidate in every one of those. And magnify them exponentially. As the saying goes, the cadre members are always watching and you are always being evaluated. Not only during Selection but on the teams if and when a candidate graduates the qualification courses.

How we behave when we think no one is looking or when we don’t think we will get caught more accurately portrays our character than what we say or do when defending our reputations.

The men who you ultimately hope to serve with on the teams have all been in the same boat and they too, regardless of time spent in the units are constantly being evaluated by their peers. It is a natural Selection process that never stops. That’s why the values that make good character are so important. Why?

Special Operations troops know what their mission is, what entails on keeping up daily on how to be a complete operator. Whether it is remaining technically and tactically proficient, keeping up their language training, updating new developments in the Area of Operations or new developments with the enemies of our nation, SOF operators are proactive, not reactive. They don’t need to be told to do these things. And if they need help with it, they must seek out the help both internally and externally.

Character Assessment Begins Early:

As soon as your feet hit the ground in Selection, your being assessed. And one of the first things that you’ll be asked to do is take a series of tests by the psychologists such as the MMPI tests but also, at least back in the day, we used to run psych evals.

The reasoning was two-fold. One, the powers that be want to make sure that the candidates are being truthful in their responses. How they do that, is they will ask the same question multiple times but word it in different ways.

The other thing the tests do is identify candidates who could potentially have sociopathic tendencies. So, when given these tests, don’t discount them or blow them off as fluff. Take them seriously and answer each question honestly.

In Selection, everything is magnified and the candidates are always tired, hungry and stressed out. So, a candidate’s true character will rise to the surface. The cadre members will see this and so will the other candidates. That is why peer evaluations are so important.

Is this candidate a team-player? Does he have the integrity to get the job done and the right way, even when no one is looking? Is this a person you would trust, with your life, if need be it came to that? Because in Special Operations, it may exactly come to that.

Six Pillars of Character:

Many today follow with the six pillar theory of character and how it equates to character building and making ethical decisions. Those are:


These are all self-explanatory and are geared more toward the civilian population. However, a special operator should also have these traits as well as a few others. We’ve mentioned these several times in different pieces here on the site and we’ll go over them again. Among the other traits nearly all Special Operators possess are…but not limited to:

SOF Traits:

Ability to Handle Stress: This is a must. If you think Selection is tough, wait until you get thousands of miles from home and you have no built-in support system. You’ll be forced to make decisions while tired, hungry, and under even more stress. SOF types can shut out everything else and continue on with the mission.

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Self-Reliance: The ability to get things done on your own is a much-needed skill for the SOF operator. No one is going to tell you when certain things need to be done. And if you need to be told constantly, then your career won’t last very long in SOF.

Good commanders will never tell SOF troops how to do something. They’ll just point to what the end state needs to be and allow the operator to get it done on his own ingenuity.

Competitiveness: SOF troops look upon everything as a challenge. Everybody can shoot and shoot well. But go to the range and the guys will always challenge each other. It carries over into every conceivable aspect of their lives. That is what drives the train. An old team sergeant of mine once said:

“You walk in the door and there will always be someone smarter than you. Someone can always run faster or ruck better than you. That is what makes us F***ing great. We push the hell out of each other and get better every single day.”

Self-Critical: Most non-SOF people will describe operators as an arrogant bunch. And they wouldn’t be far off in that assessment. Most SOF types are supremely confident that they can get the job, any job done that they will come off that way. But most SOF guys are very self-critical in everything that they do that would be surprising for non-SOF people to believe.

It is the intense drive (read competitiveness) to be the best at everything they do, they’ll nitpick themselves, after all, is said and done. Someone will conduct a textbook operation but afterward, they’ll dwell on the parts of it that went less than ideal.

Embracing the Suck Factor: There will be those times where everything seems stacked against you. The SOF operator will not only drive on and complete the mission but find a sick, twisted sense of humor in it all. This trait is highly desired.

Many civilian types have embraced this phrase for their workouts in nice workout clothes, in state of the art gyms while sipping cold water or juice out of an insulated bottle. While many of those do in fact work out extremely hard, that doesn’t compare to the SOF “suck” factor. Those of you who are veterans of SOF or still active will know exactly what we are talking about. It is the ultimate in being mentally and physically tough.  Nuff said.

Good luck in your quest and above all else,…never quit.

Photo: DOD

Originally published on Special Operations.com