Why do so many candidates fail to become Reconnaissance Marines?

With an attrition rate of over 50 percent, the Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC) is one of the more difficult Special Operations selection programs in the U.S. military. Adding the rest of the Recon pipeline to the equation, and the attrition rate skyrockets.

In an effort to improve the success rate of the pipeline, Captain Albert Cole Nowicki wrote his thesis in the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) on the subject.  Before commissioning, Captain Nowicki was an enlisted Recon Marine (served also in a Force Reconnaissance company) and Marine Raider, so he certainly knows his stuff.

According to the abstract, Captain Nowicki’s thesis “conducts a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the criteria used to select candidates for the BRC. The research uses multi-variate logistic regression models and survival analysis to determine to what extent the current requirements to attend the Basic Reconnaissance Course are indicators of success. Using data from multiple cohorts of BRC students, this research develops a predictive model that allows the Marine Corps to more successfully recruit and train the most likely candidates to graduate BRC. The results of this study suggest that the Physical Fitness Test and General Test are the most significant predictors of success.”

Some interesting observations: Of the candidates who fail the course, 27 percent Drop on Request (DOR), 17 percent are washed out for medical reasons – which could range from serious injuries or illnesses – and 14 percent are dropped because they fail the land navigation tests. So, it’s safe to assume that if a candidate doesn’t quit, gets and injured, and knows basic soldiership, he has more than 50 percent chances of successfully finishing BRC.

Interestingly, candidates with combat deployments are less likely to pass BRC than candidates without any war experience. This might sound counterintuitive at first glance, since combat-experienced Marines tend to be more mature, but it isn’t deep down for two reasons: Pride and ego. By having seen combat, those Marines are more likely to dismiss the mind-fuck games that are a common occurrence in SOF selection courses. They have met the enemy and destroyed him. And they’re proud of that. They don’t think they ought to be treated like cherries again. So, many end up just DORing.

Another intriguing fact is that candidates with at least one semester of college have an almost 21 percent increased likelihood of successfully passing BRC. This fact has again to do with the extra layer of matureness that comes with pursuing a college education – it’s key to highlight that a college education doesn’t make someone mature, but rather it makes him more mature.

There are some downsides with the study, however. Captain Nowicki doesn’t include the Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course (BRPC), where the bulk of the attrition in the Recon pipeline occurs.