When and if you go to selection, you’ll no doubt hear it was harder “back in the day.” Regardless of when you go, you can’t just wing it. Everything about selection is personal. There are trials where you’re working in teams, but it’s still a personal evaluation. There is no team, only individuals.
Beyond that, the rigors are predominately mental, because physically, you’ll meet your breaking point or close to it. It’s your ability to recalibrate and discover your personal happy place that will carry you to the end. However, getting to the end isn’t enough. It’s about how you finish, which is a mixture of your preparation and your mental resiliency.
You can certainly prepare, but the will to act, the ability to work through your worst frustration, is tough to prepare for. It’s an experience. It’s a great life experience—maybe one of my favorites. In all, I had a blast at selection. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about it. It’s up to you and no one else to succeed. There’s a lot of freedom in that.
If I went back to selection today, it would be a cinch. I’m far beyond anything I thought possible in terms of fitness and mental strength today compared to the man I was then. I was a kid. I prepared like anyone else. I rucked and ran, did push-ups and whatever else I felt I should. But it’s easy to get distracted by “Crossfit” and other en vogue training techniques. Selection isn’t a battlefield or an athletic venue. There’s no rest and there’s no bus ride home after the win or loss. It’s a test of endurance and an attempt to measure you in your entirety.
You’re going to need to run 5 miles at an 8:00 mile pace and ruck 18 miles at the infantry standard pace. There are no curveballs. The standard remains in tact. For pull ups, the army asks you to do 6. While selection standards might be secret – the army standards aren’t.
You can fail out of selection, but you can’t somehow not meet an invisible standards that is beyond the baseline standard. For example, if you do 8 pull ups and everyone else does 20 – you didn’t fail. It’s a data point and goes into a greater algorithm that’s both quantitative and qualitative. At the end, the board picks it’s selections. The PT Test, score a 270 or you’re probably going home.
If you can’t stomach working with people you do not personally like, don’t join SF. Most important, if you don’t see every problem as an opportunity – re-assess what your intentions by joining the regiment. It will never a simple mission brief and and execution. You’re more likely to eventually wade into the unknown, professionally.
Friends of mine who have sat the table for Tier 1 and SF selections have similar tales. It’s all about the board and your overall performance. Yes, it’s a race against the other. So when you’re running, try to be in the top third. But, remember you need to beat everyone – that should be your mentality. I know it’s confusing, but internatlize that and realize your top competition is yourself. Only you and your level of preparedness can flunk you from selection.
At one point or another, everyone and every kind of person can have their opportunity to shine in selection. The mule brute who can carry whatever with little complaint is great to have on your team, but he might be stupid—and during the time when teams are working together, his stupidity might lead you astray. At the same time, that motivated young guy who is eager to carry whatever, jump wherever, and exudes energy can be terrific for morale. He is also often immature and obnoxious. That same candidate will go out of his way to appear motivated and, in turn, become a pariah on the team. There’s not one type of person or personality who is the key to success. Just being a normal person who wants to do the job is what it takes. Maturity is key.
I remember one day in particular: I almost went home that day and I didn’t really stop to think about it. I basically failed an obstacle during the obstacle course two out of three times. I was literally doing the thing wrong. I wasn’t thinking. That day, someone who will go unnamed in this article but who is a legend in the community, or at least well known because he’s nuts, told me to stop, think, and watch, and then think about where I’m headed if I fuck this up. He was right: You have to just take a breath sometimes.
In my life, I’m sprinting through it, not taking hostages, and rolling through. I hope at the end I’ve accomplished a great deal. But I hope, and this is partially why I write, that I’ve learned a great deal, too. That has culminated in personal growth. Selection, in some ways, is looking for someone who will grow, change, and mature in the job. We all know we aren’t who we were years ago. We all change, and our military wants people who will change for the better, not for the worse, moving forward. Potential is a huge part of evaluating someone. Sometimes, you can see glimpses of that in the way people walk or say hello and conduct themselves.
There are more facets to selection than I can list. You are who you are, but selection is as much a job interview as a physical test. Be the best you while you’re there, before you arrive, and when you leave. Prepare well and ruck fast, simply put. Ensure you’re mentally tough and can solve problems in life and on paper. Learn to think with design and strategy. Understand you have to make friends and get along to accomplish a task. Do those things, and probably many others I’m forgetting, and your odds of succeeding are very good.
Featured image courtesy of Inside Special Forces.