Ah yes… the Nasty Nick Obstacle Course. If you are an aspiring Special Operations soldier in the Army, you will become intimately familiar with this obstacle course. It is one of those rites of passage gated events that you have to complete.

Part of the reason we do so much upper body training while preparing for selection is that you’ll need that upper body strength to make it through the selection and especially the obstacle course out at Camp Mackall. And not just for the course. To be an “operator,” what we used to call “team guys,” you will find that you need a lot of upper body strength.

The “Nasty Nick” is named after Special Forces Colonel James “Nick” Rowe. Rowe was a 1LT who was captured in a Viet Cong ambush. He was held as a POW for five years before escaping his captors as they were about to execute him.

Rowe used what he learned while being a POW into creating the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) course at Camp Mackall. All Special Forces personnel must go through the SERE course in the qualification course.

The Nasty Nick is a smoker of the nth degree. Nearly every obstacle requires some kind of rope climb and will test a candidate’s will, especially if they have a fear of heights or small confined spaces. Besides the requisite rope climbs, there are rope ladders, tunnels, a cargo net, and other assorted wonderful ideas that someone thought up. It covers about a mile and there are more than 20 obstacles to overcome.

Not so, coincidentally, the obstacles get harder as the course progresses. You didn’t expect anything else now did you? One of the most underrated ones was (at least when I worked out there) the obstacle in which a candidate had to walk across a narrow ladder. Because there was nothing to hold onto like a rope, that used to freak out a lot of candidates, especially the ones who were afraid of heights. Many don’t even realize this phobia until it hits them square in the face. If you begin to linger too long on any particular obstacle, the cadre will offer encouragement (sarcasm). “Navigate the apparatus and Move OUT, candidate!” was the frequent sound heard over the pines in those days.