Jaeger or Frogman selection: Which one is the hardest? The question has been asked a hundred times, and I have given the same answer again and again. “I don’t know.” It seems very fair to give that answer, however, as I am the only one who has completed both selection courses, I should know, right? For some reason, everybody else seems to have an opinion on the subject. I believe this has become a topic of interest outside Denmark, too.
“The Frogman selection is toughest, they spend all the time in cold, dark water. The course has rougher handling of students and is way longer.”
“No way, the Jaeger selection is way more intense. It has higher demands and pushes you further by way of harsh marches.”
The truth is that both statements are right; however, what remains unanswered is why you can’t compare them to each other.
I was 22 when I applied for the Frogman selection course, had only served in the military for two years, and I had no deployments. I had very little practical experience as I started straight away as an officer. I’m sure the same story goes around in all countries when it comes to young lieutenants. Never bring a knife to a gunfight, right? Or more correctly, never bring a young lieutenant to, well, anything.
Besides being young and eager, I had the pleasure of suffering from a bunch of injuries stemming from training way too much (typical young lieutenant, completely misjudging my own capabilities). I barely made the initial physical screening and started out like a sack of potatoes. However, if there is one thing good about a young lieutenant, it is their innate capability of recharging faster than a horny rabbit. Within one month, I was back on track, running in front. Ironically, just two weeks earlier, I was close to getting kicked out because of my injuries slowing me down.
Going through the selection course is a long, bumpy road, as it is eight months of intense physical and mental hardship. The first week is designed to weed out all the Call of Duty gamers and the ones who didn’t really understand what they joined up for. Military experience isn’t required to join selection.
Typically, around 80 guys will show up for the first week. They will have recently passed an initial physical and mental test to see if they are fit to handle the coming challenges. It all starts out with three long days of marching and running, which goes straight into two days of swimming and holding your breath. Isolated, these are really simple tasks that don’t require any prior military experience. However, when combined over the span of an entire week, and with a lot of mad instructors nearby, it tends to inspire quite a lot of people to quit, and typically only 16-20 guys will be left to start the next phase of selection.
Here the students can look forward to five hard weeks of fun things like navigation marches, hypothermia resistance training in cold water, and a lot of “rewards” from the instructors. A reward could be anything from 1,000 push-ups to a 16-mile march, always assigned on one of only two evenings during the week in which candidates have time off.
After that, usually 10-14 are left. From that point, training becomes more focused on technical skills and team tactics. The rough handling and continuous stress testing doesn’t let up, and only increases until the end of week 20. From that point, the group will usually number between three and seven remaining candidates, and that’s normally the final number of those who need only struggle their way through the last 12 weeks of more advanced tactics and skills. Demands and expectations increase, and failure comes with harsh consequences. At one point I failed a demolition exercise and at the same time brewed a bad cup of coffee for one of the instructors. The combination of the two was too much, and I was “rewarded” with a 50-mile march. After finishing the eight months, these candidates will gain the title of Frogman, but they still have to complete close to a year of qualifications before becoming an operative.
What is special about the Frogman selection is that it requires no prior military experience, and that gives a big variety to the group. At the same time, many of the applicants are young and inexperienced when they start. Therefore, much of selection is team-oriented and really focused on your ability to learn fast and function in a group. It gives a bigger recruiting foundation and a more diverse selection of operators, but it also leads to rumors of said operators being undisciplined and a bunch of cowboys.
I was 30 when I joined up for selection at the Jaegers, at which point I was already a seasoned SOF soldier with five deployments under my belt. I guess you could call me an old lieutenant by now, and actually one you would like to bring to a gunfight. However, I went in with a humble attitude and an understanding that this was a complete different game.
This was due to many reasons. First of all, I wasn’t as fit as when I was a young and eager lieutenant. Secondly, I felt a tremendous pressure from everywhere; it would look bad if I failed, and I would probably end up in a mental institution from all the shit I would get if that would happen. To add to the story, I initially wasn’t supposed to go to Jaeger selection, but the powers that be changed their minds at the eleventh hour. I got a four-week notice to get in shape and was tossed into it in the middle of the process. A good and a bad thing came from it: I had a high body fat percentage to keep me warm, however, I ended up with more injuries than a quarterback with a lousy offensive line.
The Jaeger selection starts out with three training weekends where you can test and evolve your skills in navigation, physical training, and other skills required to be well prepared for the course. This is also a good initial filter, as many figure out that they don’t have adequate skills or just get spooked over the whole selection thing.
After this, you begin the first eight weeks, which are a test of your skills as a patrol soldier. It starts with very basic individual skills and evolves into team skills, finishing with a 10-day gruelling exercise that leaves most people 8-12 kilos lighter. Candidates are then graded, and only the ones with top grades will advance to the really hard part—five weeks of additional selection in Hell. Typically, around 10-25 are allowed to start on that phase.
Here it becomes a matter of performing on the individual level, and everyday only gets tougher. It varies between long navigation marches, patrol exercises, cold-water swimming, and combat stress testing. At the end, only two to seven candidates will finish from the initial 60 who applied. After that, an additional selection and qualification year will follow before students are operative and can call themselves Jaegers.
What is special about the Jaegers is quite the opposite to the Frogmen: One must have military experience prior to applying, and most are typically army officers or sergeants with combat experience. This means that a lot of the selection requires a high skill level and leadership capabilities. You are constantly evaluated and tested on the individual level and as a leader. This means that the Jaegers expect high standards from the beginning and will drop anyone who doesn’t meet the expectations. They therefore have a reputation for being a very professional army SOF unit, but are also considered by many to be too rigid and standardized compared to the Frogmen.
Jaeger or Frogman? Both selection courses are hard as fuck, and to complete them requires the very best from every student. I had to use the same mental tools and energy in order to complete both courses. It comes down to a few important things:
- You must be able to function really well within a group.
- Everybody needs each other and everybody contributes to the survival of the group and the individual.
- You need to learn fast and adapt to the changing environment, hone your soldier skills, and don’t panic or act irrationally in all the different situations you are put in.
- You need to accept the never-ending discomfort and the fact that it will never be comfortable, but will only change from uncomfortable to ridiculously uncomfortable.
In the end, what really helped besides the above-mentioned tips was the way in which I tricked my brain. I was always adjusting my goals to the situation. Sometimes I could really see myself completing the course, while other times I would only focus on completing the next few seconds, the day, or maybe the week. Within each task, I sweet-talked myself into success or found great pride in completing certain goals along the way.
It requires the same discipline and steadfast determination to succeed whether you’re looking to become a Jaeger or a Frogman. Still, the way candidates are tested is very different between the two, which is why it is so hard to say which is tougher.