Since I started writing for SOFREP, I have been getting great feedback from our members. I also get a lot of questions from a lot of eager folks out there looking to make SOF their new occupation. I decided I would take a second, collect my thoughts, and put out a story on why I feel you should or shouldn’t jump into a career in special operations.
First off, getting into the military, especially special ops, isn’t a decision you make overnight. Even just getting to the point where you sign a contract means that you have slept on this idea for at least a month (in most cases). So for those of you that have gotten that far, nice work. And if you’re on the fence about joining SOF (come on in, the water’s real nice), keep reading.
Don’t join because of a movie
Do I even need to elaborate? You’re likely never going to see action like anything depicted in any Hollywood blockbuster. What you will see is mud, water, and the butt of your teammate lying in the mud and water in front of/on top of you. For at least a couple years you are going to be perfecting your trade in order to just get onto a team. You’ll do some boring iterations thousands of times before you have gotten it down. Then you compete within the team to get a good reputation, and a permanent slot on your team. Then your team competes against others for deployments and the best missions. If you’re joining for some immediate gratification, that’s the wrong reason.
Oh, and don’t join to kill Osama bin Laden. Apparently we got him. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing a picture.
Do join because of your own legacy
Before anyone gets spun up about the word “legacy” and misconstrues this statement as being narcissistic, let me explain. If you’ve got a love for your country and a knack for being a protector coursing through your red, white, and blue veins, then you oughta pursue that. I had a strong family history of military experience. That, coupled with this recurring vision of myself when I was 90 telling my great-grandson how I had stepped up to the plate and served my country, just like the great generations I had looked up to, was a strong push for me to join SOF -and continued inspiration to succeed. I always knew a 2076 Zach would kick my own ass for not giving it a shot. Especially during the tri-centennial.
Don’t do it for someone else
Joining with a friend can be a cool thing, I’ve heard. Sometimes it can really push you through tough times and you can lean on your buddy. But I’ve also seen where one guy cracks, and the other friend folds and quits as well. There’s something about seeing someone you respect fall apart that can cut right through any amount of toughness you’ve built up. Also, there’s a good chance that you’re gonna advance beyond or fall a class behind your friend, which can strain that friendship and stress you out.
And this goes without saying, but please don’t join to impress a girl, or a guy (I have to type that now, right?) That person is likely not gonna understand what you’re going through, and if you are doing this for anyone but yourself, or your future self, you’re wrong.
Do it if you are mentally strong/flexible
From my experience- which includes trading training stories with SEALs, MARSOC, Army SF, Rangers, Aussie SAS, etc.- guys that pass initial selection, and all the schools after that, do so because they have the ability to alternate their focus from near to far, and right back again as often as necessary. So I’d say that right off the bat, if you have been able to set a long-term goal in the past, or currently, and you also have the ability to chip away a little each day at it, you’re on the right track. Throughout your career, but especially in the pipeline, you’re gonna have to think about getting to your next meal. Or to the next exercise. But at the same time, you need to think about how awesome it’ll be when YOU’RE that jacked and tan cadre wearing those sweet Von Zips, barking commands through a megaphone and just loving life. But then you’ll need to reign it back and not think about the hundreds (!!) of shitty days, just like this one, that stand between you and being that cadre. Flexibility. Gotta shut that negative shit out and think about lunch.
Don’t do it if you take a ton of fucking selfies, or if you have a problem using fucking as an adjective
I’m dead serious. If you’re the type of person that can’t stay off social media or can’t live without your phone, this isn’t for you. There are still some old school aspects of SOF, and trust me, teams view guys that can’t keep their team shit internal as a cancer. Stay off your phone. Keep team pics within the team. And if you put something on Facebook, expect to see it on the big screen at the next unit function for all to see. You know what I’m fucking saying? Yeah, there will be a lot of cussing. The F-bomb will be about 40% of your vocabulary by the time you’re on team. More like 60% if you’re a real stud.
Do it if you’re humble
The most important thing is to be able to laugh at yourself and accept your new position as the lowest of the low. The guys barking orders at you? They’ve been in your shoes. And the reason they got to where they’re at? Because during a particularly rough event, at the end of a particularly rough week, when they were facing a legitimately impossible task, those guys sacked up (can I still say that?) and did their best. And when they failed, like they were supposed to, and the cadre swarmed on them like sharks on a whale carcass, like they’d been planning to do, they didn’t get flustered. They didn’t take the insults personally. They didn’t fight back. They laughed it off. They knew this attention was a test and was only gonna make them better. And when they finished an event with relative ease? They didn’t brag about it. They remained even-keeled and humble. They didn’t even allow themselves to relax and think about what they just did. And then they reached down and helped the next guy over that wall, or across the finish line.
So if you follow those do’s and don’t’s I’d say you’re well on your way to not only joining SOF, but also making it past those big, initial attrition phases. More than anything, being a good teammate and a good person can go a long way in this community. I’ve seen the weakest dudes coming out of a selection make it further than anyone because they listened, learned, helped their team, and never fucking quit. People notice that. Muscle mass, strong shooting technique, and tactics in general can be gained, learned, and corrected with time. But something you’ll never get back is a first impression and your reputation. Fucking remember that.
Image Courtesy: U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Ryan Conroy