We frequently get a lot of questions about the Selection part of the training pipeline, what the candidates for the various Special Operations units in the SOF umbrella must pass. Selection, as we say is just the first step, but it is a continuous process and never really ends.
Candidates during Selection will be assessed on their ability to pass the qualification courses and give an idea on how well they’ll fit in the various SOF units. It isn’t an exact science, never was, never will be. Some candidates make it thru the entire pipeline only to fail in the units. That is because the level of training the operators must possess is far above what is required in the courses. Those are just to get your foot in the door. You’ll be assessed all thru your career in every new job, regardless of rank or position.
And one of the biggest discriminators as we’ve said here countless times centers around rucking. And I’ll repeat it here just to refresh everyone’s memory. Rucking is the basis of nearly every training scenario that you’ll encounter in Special Operations. In almost every case, an operator will have some rucking built into a mission.
Which is why I was intrigued by one two-part question I received last week. The person wanted to know “Why do you put such a premium on rucking in your SOF training prep articles?” And the second part which was, “do you believe that all of the SOF units place such a premium on such an exercise?”
I answered with a question of my own which I didn’t get a response, but I’ll have to assume it was asked by a person who wasn’t an aspiring candidate of SOF but just a reader who was under some misconceptions.
So, I’ll throw this out there again. It doesn’t matter how good of a shot you are, how fast of a runner you are, how many pull-ups you can do etc. if you can’t handle a rucksack with a ton of “light-weight” gear, then you won’t last long in any Special Operations unit.
I believe some people who read the news or watch videos get caught up in the video game type of action they believe SOF only takes part in. It isn’t just fast-roping on top of a building and taking it down in a matter of seconds before being picked up by helicopters to do it all over again.
There are frequently long bounding movements associated even with direct action missions. And the kit that you see on the pictures and videos on social media, is hardly anything to sneeze at. Compound that with the operators who’ve been operating in the mountains of Afghanistan and you normally operating at above 7500 feet and facing steep terrain.
In Special Forces, back in the day, we used to do regular “certification” for SF ODAs before deployments to ensure that teams could accomplish their mission. It would consist of a couple of days jam-packed with basic SF skill tasks that we’d have to do and then each night doing a long-range movement with rucksacks consisting of 12-18 miles, with the final one being over 20.
If a team member couldn’t make the grade, then he was soon moved out. There just isn’t a gray area there, you can do it or you can’t. It is just that simple and ruthless in its intent.
The Selection courses are dealt with exactly the same, but the added stress is the unknown. You’re going to be tasked with rucking along a prescribed route, but the cadre won’t tell you how far it is or what your time is. Which is why no watches are allowed. The added stress of the unknown is a mind game that is designed to make it even more difficult.
As candidates and as members of the unit, we’d occasionally have the guy turn an ankle here or twist a knee there, and we’d offer a hand up and maybe take their weapon for a short stint. This was especially true in the course if it happened time and again, but other candidates would stop lending a hand to the same guy. Why? This is a guy that you may eventually serve on an A-Team with. Is this guy going to be able to do the job on a team? Or will you consistently have to carry his as well as your own weight? Again it is ruthless, but that is how the herd gets culled.
The Selection for Delta Force is exactly the same, the candidates are given map sheets and a point far in the distance and aren’t given a time window in which they’re supposed to arrive. To get a great look at how to pass the Delta Selection, read SOFREP’s own George Hand who wrote a tremendous series of articles on just that. The first one is right here:
As to the second part of the question, yes other services do the exact same thing. As I’ve written in the past, I was there early in the process (3rd class) when Special Forces began Selection. Back then it wasn’t yet called SFAS, but SFOT which the candidates thought stood for “Special Form of Torture.”
And the truth of the matter is, we stole the entire Selection playbook from the SAS. Nearly all of our SF training today was based on the SAS model. Yes, I know, my Brit friends will never let me forget that little tidbit.
And the SAS really puts a high priority on rucking. The Breeland Beacons in Wales to include the infamous Pen Y Fan and the forced long-range rucksack march which the Brits call “Endurance” shows that they too use that as a prime Selection tool. I can’t speak for our potential adversaries in the case of the Russians or the Chinese, but I’d bet the house that they do things much the same way.
In the 7th SFG, we would normally ruck 2X and run 3X a week during a regular PT week. But that would change on occasion depending on the situation. Most times, just like our runs, we’d start off as a group and then about halfway thru it would an individual movement to the finish.
Rucking is of paramount importance, that is why so many SOF guys in their later years have so many back, knee and shoulder issues…it comes with the territory.
So, who is going rucking today?!
Photo: US Army