“I Went Thru the Last Hard Class” and The Ever Changing Standards

For anyone who is a member of the Special Operations Forces, regardless of what service or unit, there will always be the debate over the standards, whether they changed or have been lowered, and how they “need to get tougher.” And invariably, one grizzled veteran will proudly proclaim, “I went thru the last hard class.” And some of them actually believe it. This is a fact of life, and the older we get, the more we hear it.

However, if you aspire to be a member of one of the SOF units, then this debate shouldn’t matter to you whatsoever. Your focus should be on excelling at everything you do and then you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll meet the standards or not.

I guess some recent Selection candidates must’ve have gotten in a discussion about the possible changing standards and have reached out to us here. My best advice is to ignore it. I was asked, “how hard was YOUR class?” My answer is always, “I went thru the last EASY class.”

And one area that always is used when discussing Special Operations troops is the attrition rate in the courses. If the attrition rate is high, then the veterans are happy and the standards are just right. If the attrition rates drop, the vets scream that standards are being lowered and then the worst of all worlds happen. The senior officers of the various headquarters get involved and even worse when some members of Congress get involved.

I always cringe when I watch hearings from Congress and some Washington pencil pusher says, “We need (insert number here) more Special Operations troops.” Really? Do you just put in a requisition form and say, “We need 500 Green Berets, 500 SEALs and while you’re at it, we could use another 500 Rangers, if it isn’t too much trouble, have them ready to go by the next fiscal quarter.”

Things don’t work that way. That, however, is exactly how standards can be lowered. Despite how bureaucrats think, the drop rate from Special Operations Forces will never be an area that can be manipulated by those in the levels far above the schools’ level no matter how hard they try without adversely affecting the finished product.

We saw glimpses of this last year when several Special Forces NCOs from the SFQC wrote an email that was published on SOFREP/NewsRep. Many SF instructors feel that in the never-ending wars that our country is involved in, the demand for Special Forces troops has dried up the well of qualified candidates and senior officers have lowered the standards and allowing sub-standard SFers to graduate.

The Army felt it was a serious enough issue to have the Commanding General address many of the issues which was a first for this kind of situation. One CSM that answered the charges admitted in an astounding statement, that the school fostered substandard Green Berets onto the Regiment and it was up to them to fix it.

“‘We push some of these issues forward [to the Regiment] because we believe that the Groups can succeed in fixing those problem graduates when they arrive. That is an amount of risk we willingly accept, because after all it’s much easier to get a tab removed at Group if he doesn’t pan out, than to risk relieving what’s basically a fully qualified student who might have been able to fix himself and become a solid Green Beret.’”

When the senior leadership starts looking at the failure rate from class to class if a spike occurs it normally involves outside factors that have nothing to do with the cadre. Despite the failure rates for all of the Special Operations courses remaining remarkably consistent across the board for most of the courses for several years, there are far too many variables that go into each class to be able to point a finger and identify why the rates fluctuate.

From a piece I wrote last year, I recalled a similar issue when Selection and Assessment (SFAS) was still in its infancy. The first couple of training cycles were called SFOT back then. When Selection was started, being new, there was absolutely no G-2 going on in the course. The resultant mind-games (politically correct word used) were much more effective as the candidates were truly in the dark as to what to expect.

But the first couple of classes were heavily staffed with motivated hard-chargers from the Ranger battalions, the 82nd Airborne, and other light infantry background units. After that well dried up a bit, the courses were filled with more different backgrounds and many of those soldiers weren’t physically or mentally prepared for what would follow. The drop rate rose pretty dramatically.

The Special Warfare School was feeling the heat from higher authority and word came down to our officers that they were being asked, “what are the guys at Mackall doing differently now?” The short and correct answer was nothing.

There is no way to micromanage the drop rate in Special Operations training and our officers knew this right away. But it never stops the bean counters from trying. A few months later we had a class in February where it rained and rained hard for nearly every day of the course. The difficulty in every aspect of the course was magnified for the candidates. What it took a toll more than anything was their feet.

The drop rate for medical issues and VW (voluntary withdrawal) again peaked. And once again our cadre leaders were again being asked silly questions about the attrition. Want to know why so many dropped? Come out and walk in the rain for a week and see for yourself. The cadre wasn’t failing people by anything they were doing. The course and the conditions were doing what the course was designed to do. Weeding out those who can from those who cannot.

We were lucky, after nosing around a bit, the desk jockeys from SWC retreated back to the comfort of those warm, dry offices in the Puzzle Palace and left the training to the NCOs assigned there. By the sound of things, the guys last year didn’t have that luxury. I don’t know whether what the charges that the NCOs wrote last year were true or not. I don’t work there anymore and haven’t been there for some time. But if so many of them feel that way, then I trust their judgment as fellow SF brothers that there was an issue that needed fixing.

So, what does this have to do with the aspiring SOF candidates and the standards? Nothing. The best thing a candidate can do is to do what we always preach here. “Ignore the Noise” and don’t listen to anything that you can’t control. Don’t strive to meet the standards, look to crush them. Be the guy that every instructor wants to have on his team.

Don’t fall into the bad habit of doing math in your head, trying to game plan the odds of them making it when you hear that the failure rate is XX%. You have no control over the pass/failure rate other than to meet to standards as they are or to fail.  Be in that top 5 percent. Several years ago one SFQC instructor was inundated with questions as to what the standards are, and what he told his candidates should be framed and added to every classroom in SOF.

Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimal food or water, in austere conditions, training day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon and he made his web gear. He doesn’t worry about what workout to do – his ruck weighs what it weighs, his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him. This True Believer is not concerned about ‘how hard it is;’ he knows either he wins or dies. He doesn’t go home at 17:00, he is home. He knows only The Cause.

So when you prepare for the courses, prepare with this mindset in the back of your mind. Don’t worry about the politics of the school and what the standards are…or aren’t. The standards are what they are, they’ll be spelled out for you in advance. Your instructors don’t want you to fail. They just want the best and brightest to stand beside them when all is said and done.

They have their job to do, and yours isn’t to worry about the cadre doing theirs. Your job is to prepare to pass the courses. Don’t concern yourself with items you don’t control. So, let’s go rucking… DOL

Photo: US Army


Originally published on Special Operations.com