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FAQ About Special Forces Assessment and Selection

FAQ About Special Forces Assessment and Selection

Every day we receive numerous emails and messages on our page regarding questions about SF Selection (SFAS), the 18D course, and more. We love hearing from you all, but it is impossible to respond to every question directly, so we've taken these great questions and attempted to assemble them into one page!

FAQ about Selection (SFAS)

What if I have a disciplinary record? Will that stop me from being SF?           

Depends. SF isn’t made up of saints, but it’s wise to ask an SF recruiter whether your previous history will prevent you from going.

Do you have to be big to make it through selection?

No, absolutely not. SF guys come in all sizes. A snapshot of the 18D’s who work for Ready Warrior--one is 5’7” and 170lbs, one is 6’0, 210lbs, and one is 6’3” and 235lbs. The great equalizer is fitness, rucking, and drive.

How do I prepare for selection?                                                                     

Be well-rounded. Don’t be a linebacker who can’t run, or a runner who can’t handle a heavy rucksack. We hesitate to use the example of Crossfit, because people either swear by it or despise it, but the all-around fitness it encourages is close to what you’ll need to be successful. 

How do I mentally prepare for selection?                                                          

To quote Eric Thomas: "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful." There is no magic pill to take or book to read in order to be successful. You have to accept that selection will suck, and that you will have to have a laser-like focus an believe that you want nothing more in life than to succeed at this to get through each day. 3 weeks seems like a long time, but the pride of getting selected lasts forever.  

Can we bring any Motrin or Vitamins to Selection?

No. Non-essential medications are strictly forbidden. Prior approval must be attained before bringing any medication for illnesses.

What are some good standards to shoot for in preparation for selection?     

A general guideline is to be able to run 5 miles in an average of 35-37 minutes. Ruck should be 11-13 min/mile indefinitely. Rule of thumb is do your absolute best, all the time. Faster is always better. Ruck tips in our blog post here.

Best way to get an 18x contract? 

Talk to a recruiter. Don’t think that you HAVE to do your time in the regular army if your only goal is to get to SF anyway. Everyone is at different stages of their life, maturity level, and career goals. If you aren’t sure…spend some time in the military first and then go talk to an SF recruiter.  

Boots for selection and training? 

Everyone has their own favorites. There was something called the SOPC soles that we put on our boots that were softer and were supposed to help with the ruck distances. They also burned up on the rope climbs. You don’t need some fancy pair. The standard Bellevilles will be just fine. We didn’t use any other pair of boots (except in Garrison) throughout the entirety of my SF career. Just spend enough time in them that they are thoroughly broken in before going to selection. Don’t be the guy in the selection class who busted out a brand-new pair of boots on the first day and then had to tough out some of the most incredible blisters we’ve ever witnessed. 

Does my age have any bearing on me getting selected? What is too old?

We’d be lying if we said age was not a factor in selection. It is. Regiment has to consider how many years you will be able to give them for the $ they spend on you and the time it takes to get you to a team. Consider too that most people take from 18 months to nearly 30 months (18D’s and 18A’s) to pass the Q from the time they go to selection to the time they graduate, and that’s just to get you to the bare minimum to join a team. Now the goal Is to get through the Q course in 12 months (not including medics), but you still have even more training once you get to a team, which means you are an unproven rookie!

That being said, we don’t know you…or your ability level. If you are late 20’s, you’re fine. No question. If you are early 30’s, decide quickly, but that it’s entirely possible if you perform well and have something they are looking for. We’re not selection cadre, so don’t ask us what that is! Mid-late 30’s……eh……you’re pushing it. We had a 38-ish guy in my selection class that made it all the way to the end, and was a non-select. We also had some early 30’s guys who did get selected.  

We’re never going to tell you NOT to go to selection if you’re older. You just need to honestly ask yourself if you truly want to endure what it takes to get to SF for up to 30 months, and where you see your life during that time. If you think you’re physically and mentally ready, then you don’t need us to tell you that you should go for it.  

Getting Ready for Selection. Any tips?

Get ready for the suck!!! We have all heard the horror stories about how bad selection sucks and blah blah blah. There is no way to sugarcoat it. It does. But it’s also a defined period of time that ends. To make the most out of your experience, we’d suggest the following:

1) Don’t pace yourself too much. Lots of guys don’t give 100% on the individual portions of selection because they want to make sure they have energy left for team week. Guess what? Cadre notice when you aren’t giving it everything you have. Remember, selection is a tryout. If you’re not giving everything you have, what are you even there for? You’d be surprised at the kind of physical and mental reserves you can access when you get closer to the end. There will be times where you can pace yourself, and those times will be obvious. For every other time, give it 100% of your effort.

2) Try and be the gray man. If you can excel at the individual events, do it. Excel at the PT test, excel during the runs or rucks. Don’t stick out for the wrong reasons though. Don’t be the guy who spotlights himself by being overly loud during team week. Don’t be last, don’t even be second to last in any event.

3) Shake it off. If you have a bad event, or spotlight yourself for the wrong reason, don’t take yourself out of the game. Too many people self-select out because they feel like there is no way they will ever pass after “x” happened. Not true. We had a former selection cadre on my team in group, and he used to say that guys who were very likely to get selected would quit all the time because they failed an event and spotlighted themselves in a negative way once.

4) Don’t quit. I know what you’re thinking. I’ll never quit! Well we’ll let you in on a little secret. Everyone thinks of quitting. We sure as hell did. Selection sucks! Have your little pity party, take a deep breath, and find a reason to keep going. For me, we felt sick as a dog during the Star Course. We were dizzy, nauseated, felt like we couldn’t concentrate, etc. In our delirium we went to the side of the road and convinced ourselves that If the cadre just took me back to get checked out, we’d be fine and could rejoin selection afterwards. Part of us must have known that it meant quitting, because as we sat on my ruck on the side of the road waiting to be picked up, we snapped out of it just as a cadre’s truck came around the corner, and sprinted back into the woods with our ruck. We came THAAAAT close to wiping out our dreams because we let misery and mild illness distract us.

5) Be a team player. There was a physically small guy on our team in team week. Our event was pushing a contraption that needed someone to steer it from the top. Because he was the smallest guy, he was asked to do it. He saw it as him not getting to participate and us trying to make him look bad, and threw a fit about it. Unfortunately for him, the cadre aren’t assessing your strength at that point. It’s called team week for a reason.  Find a way to be helpful. If it makes the most sense for you to be in a certain spot for a certain amount of time, accept that role.

What is life like during the SOPC course before selection? 

I can only speak to what I went through. We woke up each day super early, worked out, spent the day learning about various topics pertinent to bringing us up to speed on soldiering, such as land navigation techniques, had an afternoon session of working out, and everyone pretty much passed out from sheer exhaustion after dinner. Repeat daily. It was an incredible course and taught you a ton of great skills, as well as getting you in incredible shape for selection. 

I’m 17. Any advice on becoming an 18D? 

Finish school. Stay out of trouble. 

Any ways to guarantee getting the 18D MOS after Selection?

Short answer, no guarantees. You will be assigned an MOS based off the needs of the regiment. However, having a 4-year degree, any sort of medical background including EMT, scoring a 120 or above on your GT and simply requesting the 18D MOS will all help your cause. While there is no guarantee, SF always seems to need 18D’s, so your chance of getting it is pretty good if you have at least some of the above qualifications. 

What was your favorite part of the 18D course?
Rotations. Your experiences at the Hospitals you get to work at on rotation are some of the best hands-on experiences you’ll ever have in your life.

 

FAQ about the 18D MOS/course

I’m a civilian paramedic, do I stand a better chance of passing the 18D course? 

Mixed. Civilian paramedics either perform extremely well in the 18D course, or they can’t unlearn some of the stages of care they learned as paramedics that are different from the military, and subsequently fail. The only civilian paramedic certified classmate I had in the SOCM course failed out because he couldn’t unlearn some of the ingrained steps of medicine he had been taught, and reconcile them with TCCC. 

 

How do I prep for the 18D course? Any reading material you recommend?

The 18D course is self-contained, which means you can be like me and have had exactly 0 days of formal medical training on your first day of class and still do fine. If you really want to get a jump on the material though, I’d highly recommend getting to know Anatomy and Physiology. This firehose of information is a wrecking ball to poor students without really good study habits. I’d recommend picking up literally any basic book on A&P and get to know the PRIMARY muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, bones, etc. No matter how much you learn, prepare to study at least 2-3hrs per night during that phase to make sure you get it all. 

 

How do I prep for the 18D course?  Any hands-on training you recommend?

Memorize and practice the steps of TCCC and the MARCH algorithm of care. Getting that ingrained in your memory and practicing it will help.

 

What was the hardest topic to grasp in the SOCM/18D course? 

Everyone in the course struggled with different phases, which is one of the reasons why the attrition rate is so high. Personally, I had more trouble with the hands-on material than with the book material. Anatomy and Physiology is extremely book intensive, but if you put in the hours you can pass. The hands-on material takes the ability to really think critically and adjust as necessary to innumerable what-if’s, which means quick thinking and applying relevant algorithms of care. Even to this day, practicing and hands on is a key component of training.

 

Besides the 18D course, what is the toughest part of the SF pipeline? 

Small Unit Tactics. It’s invaluable, but it’s a suck fest. 

 

What are the primary differences between an 18D and a PJ?

I get this question a lot. Besides the obvious answers that Google and 5 minutes of research on your own can provide, there is this. 18D’s are 100% members of an SF team. This means conducting UW, FID and everything else SF teams are tasked with. This also means that they are fully integrated into the entire training cycle of their ODA, including ranges, demo, CQB, airborne ops, and pretty much everything else non-medical you can think of. An 18D often has to find their own training opportunities for rehearsing, practicing and staying proficient in all facets of medical care. You become an extremely well-rounded soldier in every aspect of what it means to be an SF guy. That’s the super short answer. A PJ is the finest combat rescue professional on the planet. While I do not speak for PJ’s, their job centers around medicine and the vast majority of their training is designed for them to be able to get to their patient. A PJ’s job is not to conduct a shura, or train a foreign military in CQB.

 

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SFAS Part 2: From Darkness until the Dawn

SFAS Part 2: From Darkness until the Dawn

After my horrible and embarrassing attempt at the land navigation STAR course (if you haven’t read that debacle, feel free to refresh HERE), we moved into the dreaded team week portion of SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection).  As a selection candidate, you've had a week straight of pushing your body through long runs, rucks, and navigating, all while operating on very little sleep. These were almost all individual events; however, and you will now be expected to work with the remaining candidates in teams to accomplish certain tasks.

The Quitter:

Not much of team week was a surprise. If you keep your ear to the ground long enough you will have a basic understanding of what will be expected of you, and what kind of events, contraptions etc. that you will encounter. However, that doesn't mean you will find yourself prepared for the awfulness that is team week. There were 3 particular moments that really stood out to be during this second phase, and I want to share them with you.

One of the first events within team week was called ‘sand-babies’. We had to carry heavy sandbags on top of our already heavy rucksacks for a certain distance and do it in a certain way without spilling any sand. One particular individual in our group was struggling to get the sandbag full and up on top of his rucksack, and we were all trying to be encouraging but also frustrated with him (you were not allowed to help them do this particular task). He finally gets it done, grabs his rucksack and we begin walking as a group. We were probably half-way to the finish when he somehow drops the sandbag and spills all the sand. This meant we ALL had to go back to the start and begin again. Tempers are barely being kept under control at this point, and this individual is feeling the stress.

He packs up his sandbag again, and we set off and try it a second time. At this point the cadre are watching him closely and making comments such as 'does it feel good to let everyone down?'. Suddenly the cadre go quiet, and we know that’s a bad sign. I was directly in front of him and look back to see what the sudden silence could mean. This guy was marching straight ahead, unaware of the silence and probably trying to block out the verbal barbs being thrown his way, but I immediately saw why. In the rush to refill his sandbag and set off again, he forgot his rifle back at the starting point. I fell back quickly to tell him. He stops dead in his tracks, turns around, and starts sprinting (as fast as one can with 100+lb rucksack) back to the starting point, spilling sand everywhere. We all rush to keep up because, A) This is team week, and B) We now have to start all over.

He starts to refill his spilled sandbag again when he suddenly stops…stares at his rucksack for what seemed like an eternity and then stands up. At this point we knew what was about to happen. “I Quit”. The Cadre look at him and ask “candidate, am I understanding that you wish to voluntarily withdraw from selection at this time?”. Him, “I wish to voluntarily withdraw from selection at this time.” He then gets removed from the group and told to sit by himself until a truck can come grab him. Selfishly I think to myself ‘Whatever, F this dude, one less person for me to compete against’.

We finish the event, and have to ruck march as a group back to our base camp. My roster number was called off to lead the team back. We hadn’t gone even a mile when I noticed one of the smaller guys in our group falling behind. As a fellow small guy, I felt his pain. I slowed down a bit to let him catch up. The cadre immediately ran up to me and asked why I was slowly down. “Team week SGT, can’t leave him behind”. The cadre responded “This is still selection, and we don't wait around for the weak. Break that mother f*cker off now or I’ll non-select your ass”. Well, that’s an easy choice. I quickened my pace to a near run, and the straggler ended up being so far behind at the end of the ruck march back that we never saw him again in selection after that day.

The Soul Snatching Cadre:

No matter what team week had in store for us, the only commonality we all hoped for was not to be on the team led by the cadre known as SFC J. This guy was certifiably insane. This was his first selection class as a cadre after being in charge of the SOPC program that I had just been in. As I mentioned in previous posts, running was the thing I felt was one of my strengths at the time. This guy made me look like a fat, out-of-shape slob on our runs in SOPC, and then would stare at me with complete disdain as I would struggle to catch up. He DESPISED anyone and everyone who didn't match or exceed his fitness level (which was everyone). We watched day after day in team week as he would lead teams of approximately 16 selection candidates out for their events, and return each night with 5-7 candidates remaining. We called him the reaper. Each day you just PRAYED your number didn’t get called to go with him, and you watched the look of absolute despair on the faces of those that did. One of the survivors of his group was saying that one morning they rucked so hard and fast to their first contraption that the material hadn't even arrived at the spot yet for them to assemble it. Instead of rewarding them for getting there so quickly, he smoked them and made them do ranger school events until the material was delivered. If you survived being on one of his teams, you deserved to get selected.

The Moment of Truth

Finally, SFAS was over. Now the only thing that you were worried about besides your aching back and feet was the anticipation of whether or not you were good enough to have made it. They called us all to a spot down the road, where the head of the selection committee gave his talk about how proud he was of each and every ‘survivor’ who made it to the end, and that not everyone had the courage to even go to selection, let alone get to this point. He then said ‘If I call your roster number, sound off and go back to the tents down the road for further instructions.’

One by one he called off roster numbers in sequential numbered order, and people I knew well and those I didn’t got up and went off to the tents. We had no idea whether or not these were the selected or non-selected candidates. All of them seemed strong in many ways. Then my friend Aaron was called. He was by FAR one of the biggest, strongest, and smartest guys I had ever worked with. He was also universally loved by everyone. If his name was being called, then the selected group HAD to be the ones with their names called. Everyone felt it. He had a fairly high roster number, so those whose lower numbers had not been called groaned, because they thought the same as I did. Aaron gets up and sounds off, and moves to the tents. They finish going through the list, and my number was not called. The selection commander gets back up in front of us and says “Gentleman, Special Forces is a hard, brutal business, and not everyone who came out here for this selection had what it took.” At this he had a long dramatic pause and said “That being said, congratulations men, you have all been selected and have been chosen to continue in the Q-course at this time.”

The emotions I felt hearing that still give me goosebumps to this day. One of my friends stood up at that point and said “With all due respect, how can we all have been selected, and candidate ### (Aaron) was not?” There was a murmur of agreement amongst everyone, and the cadre checked his list and said, “what are you talking about? We didn’t call his number. He should be here.” When we reiterated that they had, in fact, called his number, the cadre said “Okay, well…..someone go get that guy and tell him he made it!” You’ve never seen so many guys jump up with the opportunity to go get him, busted up feet or not. As he ran back to the formation, the entire group of us who had been selected whooped and hollered for him as he came back into our group. It’s one thing to be happy for yourself, but knowing such a good guy did in fact make it was a really good feeling.

A quick Epilogue: SFAS is a gate. Completing SFAS does in no way guarantee that you will receive your Green Beret. It is simply indicating to the selection committee that you potentially have what it takes to complete the training. Of my selection class of approximately 370 students, about 1/3 of us were selected. Of that, we lost more than ½ of that remaining group in the next phase of training. While I don’t have exact numbers, I’d say out of everyone who was selected, we probably graduated 30-40 people out of our original selection class.

Epilogue part 2: I saw the individual who I had broken off on the long ruck run in the gym 3 years later. He said he was medically dropped after the ruck for a badly twisted knee, which is what was keeping him back that day. He went back to selection 9 months later and passed. He was well on his way to graduating, and said he bore no hard feelings about it.