People are always asking, “What do I need to do to become a Navy SEAL?” Or they say, “Those Rangers are all psychos and mindless killing machines; that’s not for me.” Or, perhaps someone thinks they have what it takes, physically, to be a Special Forces soldier, but they don’t know if they have the necessary mental intangibles, so they doubt themselves and their ability to pass the Q Course.
In all these cases, what people are really asking is, what personality traits give Special Operators the ability to not only pass the selection course but to excel in the often extreme environments and conditions in which our military’s elite forces operate.
To shed light on our nation’s Special Operations forces, here are five personality traits that make up the psyches of the typical Special Operator. This is not a comprehensive list, and not all of us share these traits in equal measure, but probably most do exhibit all of them to at least some degree:
Stress Resistance. The typical individual who succeeds in BUD/S, Ranger school, or the Q Course, has a high resistance to stress. In fact, a man who can make it through such a trial has an almost inhuman ability to absorb a stressful situation and carry on through it, while suppressing whatever other emotions might be trying to bubble up during its course. This can manifest itself in an often limited emotional range in everyday social interactions, but in combat conditions, it is ideal. We enter a mental autopilot and shut out emotions that might keep us from carrying on.
Extreme Competitiveness. Operators hate to lose. At anything. In any circumstance. Ever. For some reason, all of us see almost every event in life as a competition or something to be defeated. We approach BUD/S the same way we approach tackling the Saturday morning garage clean-out, or the friendly jog with a buddy. We might start the training/clean-up/jog thinking we will just coast through it and do enough to get the job done. But inevitably — pretty much every time — we end at a full sprint, giving it our all, trying to be honor man, and scraping the paint off the walls because we cleaned so hard. We only know one speed: full throttle. If you are gonna do it, do it better than everyone else. There is no such thing as a friendly race.
Self Reliance. Operators hate asking for help. We believe we should be able to do anything that any other man can do, given time to figure out a task. Change out a toilet? No problem. Rewire the house? Sounds tricky, but I will give it a shot. Run an Iron Man triathlon? Okay, just let me stretch first. Build a thermonuclear device? I’m sure I can find a blueprint for that online. Operators are obstinate to a fault when it comes to our independence. We do not always like being told we are not doing something right unless it is by someone we know to be an expert. In other words, it is not okay for our wives to tell us we might not be qualified to rewire the house. But if a nuclear scientist has some inputs as to the construction of our nuclear device, then we are willing to entertain their suggestions on a case-by-case basis.
Self Criticism. While operators might seem supremely self-confident at all times, often to the point of arrogance, in reality, we are hyper self-critical, and always thinking of ways we could and should be better. That applies to all of our endeavors. We always want to be better operators, and ridicule ourselves for not being as good with a particular weapon as our buddy, or as fast a swimmer, or as strong a runner. We also often find ourselves lacking in normal life, too. We know we could be better fathers, better husbands, better siblings, and just better people. We are never satisfied with our performance, and we are always trying to improve. Unfortunately, this usually admirable quality can also manifest itself as criticism of others, as we often wonder why those around us are not as motivated as we are to improve. Once again, what makes us better operators can oftentimes bite us in the ass in normal society.
Stoicism. Finally, we learn in SEAL training to “suffer in silence,” and it is a trait we try to carry with us throughout our lives. Operators just learn to deal with shitty situations, and we revel in them over time, often to the point of finding humor in horrible circumstances. This gallows humor allows us to deal with seemingly insurmountable challenges, or to at least laugh at ourselves when confronted with crap odds. It is our way of getting through situations that many would never want to face. We take pride in facing insurmountable odds and try to steel ourselves through our stoicism. After all, if we cannot overcome a stressful situation, or handle it as well as our buddy, then he is a better operator than us, and that is unacceptable, and we need to do a better job… the cycle goes on.
This article was written by Frumentarius, a former Navy SEAL and CIA officer. It was originally published in 2017.