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Best Of The Best: How Does The Military Pick People For The Special Forces?

The selection process for elite military units is almost mythical. From movies, cartoons, TV shows to novels – many have speculated about the true process of selection. Let’s look into it together!


Is it a truth or a myth?

We have heard many ridiculous stories – like survival of the fittest, throwing people into a two-way live fire or leaving them in the middle of hostile territory. None of it comes anywhere near the real deal. To put all these rumors aside, we will first say that whoever tried out to one of these courses becomes respected by their peers. Those who pass and become members of elite military units, are revered and regarded as almost super-human, rather than only being dispersed and trained into various common positions.

So, why do special operation forces have a different selection process?

U.S. Special Operations Command considers that people are more important than technology. No amount of technology will ever replace the right person, who is intelligent, in perfect physical condition, and carefully assessed for a specific position. So, tracking down the men and women who are fitting, able and willing to execute American foreign policy duties in the most dangerous environments in the world is of utmost importance.

As we already know, no one is good at everything. Someone might fail as a Ranger, but turn out to be the perfect fit for Marine Corps or Special Forces NCO. This is why veterans of these units pick candidates. They are the ones who know best what kind of skills and mentality are needed.

In theory, that is how selection looks. In practice, each unit needs a different personality type, therefore each selection must be adequate, and emphasise the strengths and weaknesses in the candidate, as well as the ones needed for this position.

What it really looks like

A selection process for an infantry Special Forces unit can focus on individual land navigation, long team excursions with almost no sleep, and last up to three weeks. We also have an example from The Navy’s Basic Underwater Demolition – a 24 weeks period during which an emphasis is being put on being comfortable in the water, and steady increase of physical standards. An additional example can be brought from the Rangers elimination process, who have different selections for senior NCOs and officers, then for the lower enlisted. They all must meet the Ranger standards, but they focus on different attributes of the candidates.


Of course, all of these selections have common denominators, like the need for a high level of physical fitness. Special operations are extremely physically demanding, so a selection course must take this into consideration. Candidates are subjected to hours upon hours of demanding physical exercise, with the sole purpose of excluding those who are either physically or mentally weak for the task. Selections show how far you can go in extreme conditions, and how you handle such situations.

Fitness is a must and this is why

Many people apply, thinking that the minimal physical fitness standards that were published, are enough. However, they are not. In order to success, you must exceed test requirements. If it says you need to swim two miles in the open ocean in 70 minutes, you are expected to do it in less that 70 minutes in order to pass. If the test is running five miles in 40 minutes, you have to do it in under 40. Your real test will come after that – the daily “smoke” sessions. They can last through the night, and into a new day, and they include flutter kicks, lunges, push-ups, but also more difficult ones, like jumping jacks while staying in squat position.


Here’s the point that movies have gotten right – on top of all these tests, physical exertion, stress and lack of sleep – your trainers will encourage you to quit on every corner. That is why only the most driven and motivated men and women manage to pass the training.

Everybody wants in because…

Even though the selection course sounds like a preparation for Hell, every candidate wants to get in, prove themselves best, and become valuable members of the unit.

In the end, elite units would not be special or outstanding if they took everyone who walked through their doors, would they?

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