How To: Join the U.S. Army Special Forces

The U.S. Army Special Forces are considered among the most elite soldiers in the world. Joining their ranks requires a high degree of physical fitness, but more importantly, the mental toughness to push yourself beyond your own limitations.

The Army’s Special Forces were formed in 1952, with roots in the OSS of World War II. It was President John F. Kennedy who authorized the wearing of the signature Green Beret that has come to identify Special Forces soldiers over the years.

Currently, there are five active duty Special Forces groups based around the world. Each group is assigned a geographic area of responsibility. For example, 5th Special Forces Group from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky is assigned to Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq. There also are two National Guard Special Forces groups, the 19th and 20th, with units in several states, including Florida.

Since the inception of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the elite soldiers have served with distinction in Vietnam, Panama, Somalia and Iraq.

Think you have what it takes? This is what you’ll have to do.

Enlisting

It used to be that you could only volunteer for Special Forces if you were already in the military between the ranks of E-4 to E-7 (specialist to sergeant first class.) But now, with the increased need for special operators, the U.S. Army has changed its policies to allow new recruits to volunteer.

The minimum requirements are that you’re a male, 20-30 years old, with a high school diploma, U.S. citizenship and a general technical score of 110 or higher and a combat operation score of 98 on the ASVAB test. You also need to volunteer for jump school, be able to qualify for a secret security clearance, pass a language aptitude test and earn a minimum score of 229 points on the Army’s physical fitness test.

If you are worried about the ASVAB, you can get ready for it by studying GED and SAT prep guides. Concentrate on math, science (especially engineering) and general knowledge areas. Your recruiter also should be willing to help you prepare with study sessions and tutoring.

Once you’ve taken the ASVAB and been processed into the U.S. Army, you’ll go to basic training and jump school at Ft. Benning, Ga. Then, you’ll attend the 30-day Special Operations Preparation Course at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

You’ll do more physical fitness training than you’ve ever done in your life. You’ll also learn land navigation – using a compass and military map to find your way in the field. It’s one of the tougher skills to learn and one you must master to pass Special Forces training.

After the prep course, you’ll go through 24 of the hardest days any soldier can endure. Special Forces Assessment and Selection is designed to push you to both your physical and mental limits so that only the best candidates make it through. You’ll be going on little sleep – sometimes only 30 minutes a night – and asked to climb 20 to 30 up ropes and over obstacles, run for miles, swim in full uniform and ruckmarch cross-country carrying at least 50 pounds and sometimes more. You’ll also undergo psychological testing to weed out any soldiers with mental instabilities or Rambo fantasies.

More than half of those who go through selection will not make it. This is an important detail to consider for those who want to enlist straight into Special Forces. If you don’t make it, you still have an obligation to serve out your enlistment – and the Army can assign you to whatever job needs to be filled.

Preparing for selection

Mental toughness is something you either have or don’t. Physical fitness is another matter.

The U.S. Army Special Forces recommend at least five weeks of training to prepare for the selection process. The first two weeks will toughen your body and increase its ability to process waste acid in the muscles. The next three weeks is the slow improvement stage. At six to 10 weeks, the body will reach its peak performance level.

You should work out at least four days a week, alternating hard workouts and easier ones. Concentrate on swimming and running for cardio; push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups for strength; and forced marching with a rucksack carrying at least 30 pounds.

You can buy used rucksacks at many surplus and pawn shops. Just make sure it’s Army issue and comes with a frame. When you wear it, the weight should ride high on your shoulders. Do not start marching in new boots. Your feet will blister so badly you won’t be able to continue. Wear boots that have been broken in, and wear thick socks, which you should change often. Many surplus stores also carry Army-issue boots.

Start out slow. Do short sets and short distances and gradually work yourself up. The physical fitness goal you are looking for is to be able to do a minimum of 68 sit-ups in two minutes, 60 push-ups in two minutes, and to be able to run two miles in a minimum of 14 minutes, six seconds. Your forced marching goal should be to cover four miles in full uniform with approximately 60 pounds of gear in a minimum of one hour.

One other suggestion: Find a local rock-climbing gym and work out on the climbing ropes and walls. It will get you used to using your hands and arms to haul your body over obstacles and toughen the skin on your hands for handling ropes and rocks.

You can find a complete suggested workout schedule at the U.S. Army Special Forces Web site.

Earning the Green Beret

After selection comes the training. You’ll go through the Q-course that all Special Forces candidates must complete, learning small unit tactics, survival, urban warfare and other skills, and you will complete advanced training depending on your assigned specialty – weapons, communications, engineering and demolitions, or medic. You’ll also go to language school.

If you make it into a Special Forces unit, you’ll find yourself performing a variety of missions.

Special Forces A-teams originally were used as “force multipliers”- one 12-man team could train a battalion of indigenous fighters to conduct guerilla warfare. That was one of the main missions of Special Forces soldiers in Vietnam, where they trained and led Montagnard tribesman against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army. They were still carrying on those types of missions as recently as the invasion of Afghanistan, when U.S. Army Special Forces teams helped Afghan warriors fight the Taliban.

But now, Special Forces operators are just as likely to be assigned to counter-terrorism missions, to gather intelligence on enemy forces in the field, or to take direct action, such as rescue operations or the destruction of an enemy’s national infrastructure.

Whatever assignment you receive, you can count on one thing: Your career will take you into the middle of the most historic places and events of our time.

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