Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guest Blog: Special Forces Soldier

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting excerpts from a soldier-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous's written account of his recent candidacy for the Army's Special Forces. It makes for riveting reading.

In the field, Special Forces are usually deployed in teams of 12 (i.e. ‘A-teams’) far out in the wilderness and a long way away from anyone else. Accordingly, the environment is ambiguous, uncertain, and unknown, and you have to solve the problems you encounter on your own, as well as have the mental strength and integrity to do the right thing when you are thousands of miles from home and no one is looking over your shoulder. From this, then, it follows that the Assessors (‘the cadre’) want to see how well you do in unstructured situations: when you don’t know what’s about to happen, how well do you work? Do you quit easily or get frustrated quickly? If so, they want to know, and they have tried to create an environment at SFAS where such personality characteristics will reveal themselves.

They do this in an interesting way: the cadre do not yell or scream or shout: they simply leave instructions on an outdoor chalkboard concerning the next formation time and uniform –you never have any idea when an event is about to occur, and therefore cannot plan in advance (mentally or physically) for what is about to happen. Then, all they say is, “Candidates: you must run this course until the end. Do not stop or leave the trail until you reach the finish line and your time is recorded. Do the best that you can.” One key thing they have not mentioned is the distance of your run or ruck march –it could be 1 mile, or 6 miles, or 10 miles. So all you can do is start off and run your hardest not knowing how far or how long you will be running, and this obviously causes you to mentally stress about how you should be running –since most of us base our pace off of the supposed distance of the run. And once you finish, you are not given your time or any measure of how well you have done. Again, this is just a tool to add a little uncertainty and stress to a mundane activity like running or rucking. (One example: we once did a ruck march of 4 miles; later, we did another ruck march that seemed to be about 4 miles as we returned to Camp Mackall along the regular route; but instead of ending at Mackall, the path took us right through the camp and out the backside of the camp and into the woods again for –as it turned out—another two miles. A mildly sneaky strategy to demoralize the weak-minded).

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