I’ve recently heard from several individuals that are preparing to enter for Special Forces Selection. This isn’t something new: I’ve gotten emails from people ever since I began writing here. But what’s different about these latest candidates is that they are a bit older than the average candidate. They range from 32 to the mid-30s; there is even a potential candidate who is pushing 40. 

While it is far from impossible, at that age, there are certain factors that just can’t be ignored. Going through and passing Selection is a grind even for someone much younger than any of these candidates are. 

As much as some of us don’t want to admit it, your body doesn’t quite recover as fast as you get older and it is more susceptible to injury than when you were in your mid-20s. And the pace of Selection, and the recovery time it affords, is never really sufficient, to begin with. It is guaranteed that candidates will be tired, hungry, sore, and mentally mush at certain points of the course. It is okay to be that way. The course is designed to do that to all of the candidates. It is the right of passage to get to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) and then, hopefully, for the right candidates, to a spot on an SF A-Team.

A factor that is completely out of the candidates’ hands is that the SF Recruiters and the schoolhouse will have to decide if they will even accept older candidates. Being in your early 30s is one thing. Pushing 40 is another.

It takes time to get in, pass Selection, then get a class date for the SFQC, and get basically qualified in an 18 series MOS. Then, before a new team member is truly integrated, he or she will go through a lot more training, honing their skills to reach their peak of operational ability. At that point, how much time can a team member be counted on to stay on an A-Team? But that is beyond our pay grade; we just prepare as best we can and don’t worry about what we can’t control.  

So, my advice regarding passing Selection or SFAS is to think really hard about it. It will be extremely difficult and a particular challenge for older candidates.

Back in January, I took in some sessions with the “body coaches” at the TB-12 clinic in Foxboro, Massachusetts. TB-12 is a sports clinic that Tom Brady and Alex Guererro have put together (there is one opening in Tampa soon). The clinic helped Brady still play at a high level in the NFL whereas most players his age have long been retired. TB-12 preaches getting muscles, long, soft, and pliable. They treated some Green Berets last November in a partnership with the Green Beret Foundation.

The clinic’s approach may work for you; it is certainly worth a detailed look. Showing up in the best shape of your life for Selection is an absolute must. The course has to be, at least in the beginning, something that is easily attainable physically. That will change as things progress. 

Another suggestion is to look at things through a different lens. When we think about our Special Operations Forces, we automatically picture a chiseled, barrel-chested freedom fighter… right? Because many of us picture ourselves this way. Who else does? Yes, you in the back… you can raise your hand too.

Many of the younger candidates will naturally look to the older ones for guidance and leadership. Maturity will come in handy in Selection and that falls into being the guy (or girl) whom everyone wants on their team.

Selection Is as Much About the Individual as It Is About Teamwork

Special Forces Assessment and Selection
Candidates assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School attempt to push a jeep through a muddy trail during Special Forces Assessment and Selection at Camp Mackall, North Carolina March 14, 2020. (Photo by K. Kassens/DVIDS)

A big part of success in Selection is banding together. 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 important part of Selection and what the cadre will look for — 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 so successful. Although most of Selection is graded in individual events, the group has to come together and encourage each other. Push each other and help each other out to the best of your abilities. 

Lone Wolves don’t cut it. So, no Rambo or MacGuyver stuff. 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, step up, and help their teammates during team events. If they don’t help their teammates, then they’ll ultimately fail.

As the mature members of the class, ensure to leave the assessment to the assessors. This may sound simple and incomprehensible now, but it will make sense. Candidates who self-assessed themselves too closely, usually psyched themselves right into doing the duffle-bag drag back to Ft. Bragg. Remember, as long as you are standing in the formation every day, you are still in play to be selected. When things get difficult — and they will — set small victories for yourself, something like “I’m going to suck it up until lunch.” 

What Can the NFL Teach You About Selection

The great NFL coach Bill Belichick has a saying, and it is all over the facility in New England… “Do Your Job.” Your job is conducting Selection to the best of your ability, every day, every exercise, and event. The cadre will do their job, and rest assured that you are always being assessed. And I’ll repeat it just so there’s no doubt. “You. Are. Always. Being. Assessed.”

Remember to ignore the noise (another Belichick-ism). As a cadre member at Camp Mackall, the SFAS “rumor mill” used to kill me. There is something about Selection and the SFQC that turns good troops into an old 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. Invariably the rumors are totally wrong. I’ve frequently advised SFAS candidates to have a book handy. When the rumors start flying, save your energy and brain matter, and read a book. You’ll thank me later.

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As with all candidates: Don’t Be Late, Light, Last, or Out of Uniform. That automatically brings unwanted from the cadre. It goes without saying that it goes hand-in-hand with watching out for one another. You never want to be light when it comes to weighing your rucksack. If they say 45 pounds, then that is the absolute bottom limit, But don’t go too far overboard with it either. 

Finally, don’t ever quit. Selection and the SFQC is nothing that thousands of people before you haven’t done. It isn’t easy but it is attainable. A good friend whom I admire greatly and who was a Battalion Commander at SWC, the SF schoolhouse, said that a successful SFAS candidate has to be “a rope climbin’, land navigatin’ MFer…”


This article was originally published on August 15, 2020.