Selection: I fought the creek and the creek won.
A quick preface: Nothing I say in this post is going to give away any operational details about SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection) that a quick Google search of ‘SFAS’ hasn’t already revealed a thousand times. If you came here to get any juicy hints, you’ve come to the wrong spot. However, I am going to tell you about some massive fails that I had in SFAS and still somehow got selected!
From log and rifle PT (sad to hear they took that out, it SUCKED), individual events, land navigation and team week, SFAS was a massive kick in the gut. I was also in the unlucky few trial classes that had the 14-day SFAS. You may think to yourself, oh, fewer days is good! At least you don’t have the 19-day or 21-day Selection! You’d be mistaken. All the same events go into the 14-day Selection as the 19 or 21-day Selection….think about that for a second. We didn’t catch a break, we just did everything faster with less recovery time. I know I know, it sounds like the ‘everything was harder back when I went through’ type excuse. I get it. I’m just stating facts, not looking for sympathy! Anyways, off we go!
Having done a TON of physical preparation prior to SFAS, I felt like I did pretty well during the first few days. Running was always something I was naturally good at, and there is plenty of that early on. It was Land Navigation where things started to get tricky for me, and made me sure I was going to be a non-select!
Everyone’s probably heard of the infamous 'STAR' course. Five land navigation points spread out in roughly the shape of a star, covering between 2 and 13km’s per point totaling anywhere from a lot to a LOT of miles before you’re all done. We started at some point in the dead of night under absolutely zero illumination. The cadre give us our maps, gave us our brief on the course, told us the time we had to be done, and started us off.
I Immediately get under my tarp, plot my point, put my map back in my waterproof case and stuff it in my cargo pocket, grab my ruck and set off confidently and quickly on my bearing. I knew my first landmark that I needed to find and cross was a creek. I estimated it was about 300 meters ahead of me based on where I thought I started from. I found it quickly, by falling off a high embankment head first into it. Not being able to see almost anything in the near total darkness, I misjudged my progress to the creek by a considerable distance. I found myself gasping for air and fighting stars as my 55lb ruck smacked me in the back of the head and pinned me under the water for a brief moment. It has now been less than 10 minutes into the STAR course, I’m soaked through, and I’ve nearly knocked myself out with my own rucksack. An ominous start.
I righted myself in the creek, thankfully finding it was only chest deep in the center and rose rapidly at the banks. I collected myself and tried to exit the creek according to my original bearing. It was a solid wall of thorns and vines. I tried going up and down the creek, but encounter nothing but a wall of vines everywhere along the opposite bank. Unsure of how I’d ever get back on my original bearing if I wandered too far, I went back to my original spot and decided to bust through the vines..thinking there was no way it could be that thick. Turns out they were that thick. I probably took at least an hour breaking brush, tearing away vines and swearing under my breath. I finally bust through and into a clearing. I take my red lens out, and feeling confident no one is nearby, shine it back on my handiwork. There is a near-perfect human shaped hole in the vines stretching probably 5 meters deep. It was like a cartoon character had busted through a wall in a Looney Tunes episode. Knowing I wasted valuable time and needed to start moving fast, I reach into my cargo pocket to get my map and find out what my next landmark was on the way to my first point.
As I reach into my pocket, my brain was finding it hard to grasp what my hand was touching. It’s touching nothing but the inside of my cargo pocket. It’s empty. Both pockets are empty. My ruck doesn’t have it either. I frantically search around my feet and the nearby area. My map is gone. I’m well over an hour into the STAR course and I have fallen face first into a creek, made it probably less than 300 meters from my starting point, and already lost my map. I sit on my ruck for a moment, having a moment of self-pity, and crazily wonder if it’s possible to somehow go back to the original starting point and ask the cadre for another map while concocting an outrageous excuse as to why I needed it.
Snapping out of it, I rationalize that if it fell out, it probably fell out when I plunged into the creek. I rush back into the creek and starting wading downstream. I only had gone about 25 meters downstream when fate smiled upon me. My map, still in its waterproof case, had been caught up on a tree branch hanging over the creek and in the water. I let out a soft ‘&#*@ Yeah!’, grabbed my map, and rushed back through my vine cut out to set about plotting my next waypoint.
My first point was probably 9-10km away, so I knew I had to REALLY hustle to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, because of the complete darkness, the time I wasted, and me apparently not being nearly as good at land navigation as I imagined myself to be, it was bright and early morning when I thought I found my first point. I knew I was in the right spot, but there was no ‘sitter’ where they should be to mark my scoresheet. I kept going back and forth, getting more desperate as time passed. Finally, I see another student, who is clearly looking for the same point as I am. Talking between candidates is strictly forbidden, but we give each other the unmistakable ‘bro, WTF’ look as we desperately continue searching. A few minutes of searching later I see another soldier on his hands and knees crawling out of a massive thorny bush in a clearing. I run over, drop my ruck and crawl through a tiny opening. A guy has completely cleared out the inside of this massive bush, and is sitting on a camp chair reading a book. He looks at me crawl through the hole, puts down his book and takes my scoresheet to mark that I found the point. He notices it’s my first point that day, and remarks “First point? You really suck at land nav. You’ll never find all your points before the end.” He then hands me back my scoresheet and goes back to reading his book. On my way to my next point I found the other candidate who was still searching and may or may not have dropped him a hint as to where to find the point. Middle of a huge thorny bush? Seriously? I don’t feel bad at all about dropping that hint.
I quickly found point number 2, but with point number 3 being about 6km’s away and me having only 45 minutes or so to get there, I throw caution to the wind and start sprinting down roads to get there as quickly as I could at the risk of being a roadkill (caught on road equals automatic failure). Despite my efforts, I didn’t quite get there in time, and only ended up with 2 points. With team week still to come, I was not feeling very confident about my chances at being selected at all, especially after finding out that nearly everyone in my tent got at least 3 points that day.
More to come soon….
Next Up: Team Week and the Cadre who broke souls.