Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I received and email from a young man asking me which branch of the armed forces I'd join if I wanted to become a Special Operations Force Warrior.  I decided that the answer would make a good post.  So I share it here for everyone to read...


Your email made me really pause and think.  Since I’ve never served in the military the only loyalty I feel is to people I’ve known, not to any branch of service.

There are many great resources available to research and learn all about different Special Operations Forces.  I especially enjoy the work of Dick Couch as he served as a Navy SEAL and was allowed unprecedented access to many schools of training, and his books are priceless if you want to learn about the process of becoming a real warrior.  Many recruiting offices can also hook you up with a mentor who’s ‘been there’ and can guide you.

I personally know men who are or were: Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Air Force Special Ops, RECON Marines, and your average, every day, soldier.  I have been impressed by them all.  Each is unique in their mission and each serves our country with honor and courage.

There are also a few other realities that need to be faced. 

1)    Divorce rate among elite special operations forces is very high.  Few marriages succeed. It is a lifestyle that is very hard on families.
2)    Pay is very low.  Military families do not make a lot of money.
3)    Chances of dying are also higher than average.  When you walk the knife’s edge it’s easy to slip.
4)    The odds of getting into any special operations force are tiny.  Fewer than 20% of people who try out will make it.
5)    Military life is harsh, especially in SOF.  Hardened men tend to be very crass and vulgar.  It’s part of the reality as well.

The cards are stacked against you.

Now I’m not trying to talk you out of service.  It’s just very beneficial to know what you’re getting yourself into.

I also know men whose marriages are very strong because of their service.  When they’ve retired from full time military service they’ve had very successful careers and that warriors edge that they’ve kept sharp over the years has made them truly mighty in life.

Before I tell you which branch of service I’d lean toward (if I had to choose), I’d like to give you a few tips that I’ve gleaned in my study and experience with warriors.

1)    All warriors are supremely fit.  They aren’t muscle bound, meat-heads.  Most of the body-builders and football player types can’t make it.  They are TOO big.  Most SOF guys are rather short (under 6’1”) and not bulky.  They are muscular, toned and very athletic.  Most of them are endurance athletes, cross country runners, boxers, soccer players, tri-athletes, mountain bikers, etc… ALL branches of military will require a TON of running.  Some nearly 15 miles a day.  Your fitness starts now!  Push-ups, pull-ups, running, swimming, some weights…but mostly calisthenics will benefit you a lot. If you aren’t in the habit of exercising daily, I’d start now.
2)    You have to be smart.  Most SOF guys I know have at least a bachelors degree, and many have masters degrees and PHD’s…in things like engineering, law, medicine, business, etc...  These are smart guys who know their stuff.  They can adapt mentally and learn very quickly.  They are also mentally tough.  Many have witnessed horrific things that would turn normal people into whimpering piles of emotional mess.  These guys can bottle it up and do their job.
3)    I spent last weekend in the woods with a former Green Beret and his comment to me, that I’ll share with you, was that “the guys who succeeded in training were those guys who had a spiritual core.  Guys who knew they were son’s of God and he cared about them.  When times got tough…I’d sing a hymn…and that’d get me through…that and the Book of Mormon.”  Your testimony needs to be as solid as your muscles.
4)    Officers tend to succeed more than enlisted personnel do.  Some believe that this is due to the rigorous training that officers have already had to endure (like Air Force Academy, West Point or the Naval Academy) and they can handle SOF selection better
5)    Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a help as well. The way they break people in training is to make them uncomfortable.  Most people can’t handle this and wash out.  If you are fine with being uncomfortable then you will go much farther.
6)    Focusing on others seems to be a common trait of those who succeed.  They don’t dwell on their own discomfort, but help lift their team mates and encourage them…thus loosing themselves in the service of their fellow man.  Guys that are in it for themselves rarely succeed.

I also have noticed that most of the guys I’ve known dreamed of being what they were for a long time.  “I’ve always wanted to be a Green Beret, since I was a little kid” is a common statement.  They just knew that’s what they wanted to do.

So my first question is: what is the first one that comes to mind when you decided you wanted to do this?  Got it? Then go with that!

As a teen I wanted to be a pilot (thanks to the movie Top Gun).  I wanted to fly jets faster than the speed of sound and shoot down enemy fighter planes.  I had it all figured out.  Mission, Air Force Academy, Fighter Pilot School and Combat F16 Pilot.  If I was good enough…the Thunderbirds. I had one minor problem.  I am too tall.  The recruiter told me that fighter pilots could not be over 6 feet tall.  I was crushed.

I looked at Helicopters, but just wasn’t thrilled about that.  The Marines recruited me heavily to come fly for them.  They even called my mission president at one time.

While I served my mission, I had a change of heart.  I decided that I felt even stronger about other options in life and when I returned home I went down another path…one that I’ve never regretted…because it led me to my wife, my career (where I get to rub shoulders with these great men) and my family.  MORE IMPORTANTLY, it’s allowed me to see parallels between real warriors and Priesthood Warriors…ones I don’t think I would have seen if I’ve have been tied up in the military life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we turn our lives over to the Lord, he takes charge and sometimes we end up in different places than we intended to go.

So the end of this long answer is this:

If I had a chance to go back 20 years and give it a shot…which Special Operations Force would I have tried?

I love to swim, I’m an adrenaline junkie, I love to do things that other people aren’t and I thrive on physical challenge.  I think I’d have to go with the SEALs. There is just something about that Trident that speaks to me, that dares me to try and makes me want to wear that badge.

Each group has a slightly different specialty though and it’s important to see that.  Green Berets for instance specialize in teaching and training local forces to fight and adapting skills to local environments.  They are the ones who worked with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban government.  If you like working with people then the Green Berets might be a good fit…

Again I’d say, search your heart and honestly ask: Which one speaks to you the deepest.  Look at patches and see what you are drawn to. 

One last bit of advice…there is such a thing as a ‘stupor of thought’ that occurs when a decision may not be right.  Indecisiveness IS that stupor of thought.  Right now just may not be the right time to decide and maybe, just maybe the Lord has other things in mind for you.

Either way…the best answer is the one that comes from inside of you.

Good Luck.