How to Prepare for Special Forces and Gain a Competitive Edge

Special Operations weapons training exercise
U.S. soldiers assigned to 1-10th Special Forces Group participate in a weapons training exercise at the Panzer Range Complex, Boeblingen, Germany, Nov. 8, 2016. (Visual Information Specialist Jason Johnston/U.S. Army photo)

This week, we have an impressively mature and forward-looking question from an 18-year-old in the military's delayed entry program. He's wise beyond his years and realizes the personal and professional growth needed for this military career journey, so he's looking for a five-year plan to help him prepare.

Here is his question.

Stew, I am about to join the Army with hopes that my career takes me into special forces. Do you have any suggestions on gaining that slight edge I may need to be accepted into these programs, either as support or later as an operator? I am only 18 and plan to move into that world in my mid-20s as I build my fitness and career experience in my first five years. Does that five- to seven-year plan make sense? Thanks, Ray

Ray. First of all, thanks for choosing to serve your country. Second, your question shows remarkable maturity. You have done your research and displayed the humility and patience to recognize and trust the process. If you focus on weaknesses, they actually can become an additional strength and give you an edge when pursuing competitive billets in special forces.

The fact that you already realize this gives you an edge on the journey to learn new skills and grow physically and mentally. You have the needed patience and desire to improve every day. If you work to be better than you were the day before, you'll build a foundation for progress over the next five years.

Special Forces units require experienced and mature people with special skills that set you apart from others, so it's smart to allow this time for personal development.

You should strive for a military occupational specialty (MOS) that interests you and will be useful if you enter the special ops community in a support role. Regardless of how you plan to serve in the units, you must set a higher standard for yourself with your physical capabilities.

The first place that you can set yourself apart is in the fitness test. Preparing for the OPAT, APFT and ACFT or tests for more advanced training like jump school, Air Assault school, Sapper school, Pathfinder and Ranger school will give you progressive challenges, as well as the type of tactical education that you may find fun and rewarding.

Once you are in the Army, you will meet people who have similar ambitions as well as those who have "been there and done that." Learn from them both and hang out with like-minded people.

You will learn how to train and prepare yourself by watching others ahead of you doing what they need to do for success. Start emulating them and preparing yourself to be the best support team member you can be. If your training and desire guide you toward being a Special Forces operator, then take your preparation to a higher level.

You have to endure ups, downs, victories and pains of the journey by yourself, but the people you meet along the way will be your brothers and sisters for life. They will help you endure on the road to your goals.

The best thing about having a five-year plan is that nothing will be rushed and done haphazardly. The chance that you will neglect something in your preparation is minimal, and you will be ready to serve when the day arrives. Patience means preparing and not waiting around doing nothing. Enjoy the journey.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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