The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why
Before I begin here, I first have to say, that although I love the film by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington, the quote that they attribute to Mark Twain, was one he never actually said, but it frequently credited to him. Washington’s character in the film has much of the wisdom Twain had, all while being a total badass. And part of it was filmed in my hometown, so it was even better. Twain had so many great quotes…what’s one more …right?
The meaning of that quote, whoever wrote it, is that we are born and we don’t truly live until we find our purpose in life. We have to find out what we were born to do. And that is what is ultimately what makes us a person and if we’re doing what we love, we are going to the most effective we can be.
But one of the other great quotes of our time is “Do Something You Love and You’ll Never Work a Day in Your Life”. And to some degree that is very true. For those of you who are hoping to chase a dream for a career in our Special Operations Forces, it is hardly a career without hard work. In fact quite the opposite.
There are numerous sacrifices that must be made just to get your feet in the door. You’ll have to train extremely hard on your own, just to become a candidate for Selection. Next comes the actual Selection courses which are designed to crush an average troop into the dust. The physical and mental side of the Selection courses are extremely difficult and the ratio between successful candidates and unsuccessful ones are very high. That doesn’t even take into account the qualification courses which depending on your MOS could take over a year.
That just gets your foot in the door. Once you are a member of the operational units, the training, missions and operational tempo become even harder. Getting into Special Operations is very hard. Remaining there for a career is even harder.
But the job satisfaction and feeling of doing something worthwhile and important outweigh any monetary rewards you could get. The fact of the matter is that if you decide to embark on a military you won’t get rich, don’t expect to be living next door to a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Some researchers have stated that happy employees and those that have totally “bought in” to what they are doing are at least 12 percent more effective than just the ones working to get a paycheck. We’ll get to this more below.
So, you are considering Special Operations as a career, something many troops have in every service…how do you get yourself standing in the formation at Selection?
Research As Much As Possible:
This is a MUST. Read everything you can get your hands on about whatever unit you are targeting as your choice. Be intimately familiar with the unit’s history, their makeup, what makes them so special, and how they operate.
Then do more research. Are the skills and intangibles that the unit is looking for actual strengths of yours? You have to be very self-critical and realistic here. And if they are not strengths, are there ways to make them so?
Obviously, if you are a person that doesn’t enjoy working at night or even has a fear of the dark, then this life probably isn’t for you. So, do the homework first and do a detailed job on whether this job appears to be a fit both personally and professionally.
Map Out a Timeline:
Like anything else, once you’ve decided to try this, you can’t just submit your paperwork and expect to walk in the door on Day 1 of Selection and expect the cadre to hand you the key to the city. Your preparation should begin before you ever submit your paperwork.
Then map out a timeline. If you plan on attending Selection next spring, make a reverse timeline and start the backward planning process (something you’ll be expected to know in SOF). And your preparation is all on you. No one is going to hold your hand either in your prep or in the course. You must be self-reliant and a true self-starter.
A young man spoke with me recently about making such a big leap and asked me what if after all that, how do you know you will excel in Special Operations. Most of that comes with doing the research and homework ahead of time. But in reality, you won’t really know if you fit in SOF or it is for you until you get your feet on the ground there.
Many, the majority of the people that try out fail. It isn’t an indictment on the person, there are many outstanding soldiers that have attempted Special Operations and aren’t a fit. There is no shame in that. It isn’t for everyone, life in Special Operations especially isn’t for everyone. The only shame is, once in, not giving 100 percent of your time, effort and enthusiasm.
Never be afraid of pushing the envelope and reaching high. Of course, the possibility of failure is always there but that is what makes it all worthwhile. As Tom Hanks said in “A League of Their Own”, the hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it. And then, it wouldn’t be “special” at all.
On a personal level, I knew what I wanted to be from the time I was about eight years old. My Grandmother lived nearby and she subscribed to National Geographic. There was an issue about Special Forces in Vietnam and the pictures and story about CPT Vern Gillespie were enthralling. How this shadowy, unit, lived with and fought alongside these hill tribesmen in Vietnam was fascinating.
I then read everything I could get my hands on about this “new” unit. Which in those days wasn’t very much. Making a trip down to the town library, I signed out Robin Moore’s book, “The Green Berets” and was hooked. It wasn’t long after that when the book came to the silver screen and none other than “the Duke”, John Wayne brought the Green Berets in a flawed but memorable film. To the 10-year old in the theater, it made a lasting impression.
So there was never a doubt where my “passion” was going. But making it happen is always a different path, the same for everyone else. But once there, I was the happiest I ever was at any time in my life.
I couldn’t believe they paid me to go to work there every day. I got to meet a ton of tremendous NCOs, the backbone of SF, where excellence is a given. On a podcast on SOFREP Radio, I once told the host, Ian, when on the show that I felt like a member of the ‘27 Yankees, where everyone was a star at what they did. My battalion had a plethora of our officers make General, far exceeding the normal ratio. And the amazing thing was, there were a few more who should have made it.
I was fortunate and consider myself lucky to be able to do what I loved, despite the injuries which came down the road and I have to live with today. I hope that all of you find that niche in life as well. There is no feeling like it. And if it brings you into the Special Operations brotherhood, that is the best feeling of all. Don’t quit. DOL