I am often asked about my training and experiences and people tend to always ask the same question, “What was the hardest part of training?” This issue has been addressed many times by other SPECOPS career fields and there are some universal truths in every volunteer-based career field. From SEALs to Green Beret to Combat Control to SERE, each of these hold the same premise…. it sucks. But if it was easy, then anyone could do it.
What Does It Take to Be a Special Operations Warrior?
I was not the biggest or most athletic kid in school so when I decided to join the military (and specifically an extremely challenging career field), there were a few skeptics. I trained doing push-ups, sit ups, running, pull ups, swimming and rucking. While physical attributes are extremely helpful, there is more to it than just the “physical” aspect, and I don’t mean only the “mental” either. I believe that in any SPECOPS job it breaks down something like this: 80% Mental, 10% Physical, and 10% Genetics. Yes, you heard me right, GENETICS. Now hear me out before you throw me under the bus and say I am full of it. I have been through some of the toughest schools the military has to offer, with attrition rates well over 70%, and I have seen this echo true throughout.
At the start of every course, I look around during the in-processing day and size up my competition. (I am sure you would do the same thing in this situation. ) I was not sizing them up to see if I was better than them, but as a very competitive person I want to know who thinks they are Top Dog so I can check to see where I size up. On days like this you hear all the other candidates talking about what they heard from a prior class or how they plan to skerve (cut corners) around certain assessments. When a bunch of Type-A personalities are in the same room, the most outspoken and cocky tend to be put on a pedestal as if they were exempt from the physical torture that’s coming. At the start of courses like Tri-Atheletes and Iron Man I have seen men – who look like they can bench press a bus – quit within the first hours. Yes, they had the physical qualities and yes, they clearly have good genetics, but in this case they did not have the mental toughness to “embrace the suck.” The individuals you least expect to be successful at the beginning tend to be the candidates you want to “ally” yourself with during training.
So you are probably asking, “OK, so what can I do to make sure I am one of those individuals who succeed?” Well, not to put too fine a point on it, although you can work on the physical (and it will greatly improve your chances), throughout all these courses you quickly reach that point when no man can continue knocking out mountain climbers or do push-ups, and that is where the mental toughness kicks in. Your inner monologue tells you to suck it up – it will end sometime. This is when the genetics kicks in! When growing up, if you were the person who quit something the first time you hit a roadblock or because someone you didn’t like gave you a hard time, chances are that you are predisposed to mental failure based on your “quitter” genetics. If you had the exact opposite response to these situations while growing up, then you have a much higher probability of making it through the training.
So Now What?
When people ask me what was the hardest part of training, I respond with, “Running into the quitter afterward when they’re flipping your burger at the chow hall”. The training sucks and there is no special way of looking at it except knowing and embracing the suck, accepting that your body will fail and you will not be able to meet certain standards, and that you will continue on – no matter what. And that is what it takes to make it into the elite! Just saying “I would rather die than quit” over and over again can only get you so far.
There will be a time when you are 3 days sleep deprived, 1 week food deprived, mentally exhausted from task saturation, you will just want to quit. However, that inner monologue telling you who you are inside will kick in, and you will find the courage and veracity to suck it up and move past it. So yes, eat healthy, work out, and read books. But if as a teenager, your trend has been to quit on things like sports, jobs, friendships, relationships and hobbies, chances are that you aren’t going to make it. This is not an absolute as there are exceptions to every rule, but this should give you a better idea if you will make it or not.
- If you have formulated a backup plan in case you don’t pass, you are screwed already.
- Be careful choosing friends in these courses. Sometimes the wash-back from the previous class can help and other times might be extremely detrimental.
- Mental toughness doesn’t just “happen” – it is something that is ingrained in your character.
Just remember that this is an opinion based on what I have seen and experienced first-hand. If you have questions or would like me to elaborate more, just send in a voice memo to Chairborne Commandos and I will answer it as best I can during a show.