What kind of training produces these elite warriors?
Special Forces is both a leadership challenge and a cultural challenge. But above all it is an experience that takes talented and skilled soldiers and makes them work hard to be average. That’s the hallmark of all great elite training organizations. I had the same constant nagging feeling in my gut during my years at West Point: I was already skilled good before I gained entry but I had to work hard just to be average.
The Green Berets go through a rigorous process of selection, assessment and training. This encompasses physical and military training cycles that include mental and psychological screening. “Physical, mental, moral and decision-making abilities will be continually challenged and evaluated,” writes Dick Couch. “Their screening is on the order of a full-on, in-depth psychological examination and a Senate confirmation hearing – combined.”
A former commanding General of the JFK Special Warfare school [the home of Special Forces] explained the unique profile this unit seeks: “We are looking for the men who are physically tough, but more importantly, men who have the intelligence, character, interpersonal skills to be impact players…SF is one of the only military training that seeks out men who can get along with others – who can function in a cross-cultural environment.” –
“Special Forces training, like all SOF [Special Operations Forces] training, is part teaching, part testing, and part mentoring,” explains Dick Couch in Chosen Soldier. The first phases is called Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). The goal is to initially screen and assess the basic skills of trainees from conventional Army units. Before you could be an elite SF warrior you had to demonstrate you had the foundational skills of a good solider: light infantry tactics of patrolling, land navigation and physical fitness. This is where entry to the small fraternity, ‘The Brotherhood,’ begins.
High Standards are continually maintained. “We may be at war, but we’ll not lower our standards,” said a Group commander (a Colonel) addressing a class. This mean the candidates run times, swim times, obstacle course times, marksmanship scores, written tests and land navigation times are all closely evaluated. Willpower, not physical, was the most important determining factor of success
Phase 2 is the SF Qualification Course, often called the Q Course. Here small unit tactics are trained such as reconnaissance, ambush and raid patrols, mission planning and troop leading procedures. One of the culmination exercises is the rigorous land navigation test. This is often called a ‘Star Exam’ because the 18km course consists of 5 locations crisscrossing in a ‘star’ pattern. Trainees take 9 hours to complete and pass the course. Land navigation is one of the most fundamental skills of SF soldiers. “As a SF soldier you’ve got to be able to navigate with a map, compass and protractor under any conditions,” writes Dick Couch. They need to not only master this skill set but also be able to teach the skill to others. It is solo work that also teaches the soldiers a lot about themselves: