A future Special Ops Soldier asks:
"I am not sure which branch of service I would like to join, but I do know I want to do something in the Special Operations. Which one is the toughest and best trained?"
This is the question I normally do not answer as the only people, in my opinion, who can answer which training programs are the best or toughest as those who have done them all. We all have opinions on which are the hardest and they are usually the ones we selected so any answer you get is going to be prejudiced. Now, I know a few guys who have done SEALs, Rangers, and Army Special Forces and some who have done USMC RECON, SEALs, and Army SF. These guys all say the same thing; they are all a bit different and equally as challenging as the other. Each Special Ops unit (Army SF, Air Force PJ, Navy SEALs, USMC RECON) focus on different missions, though they can jointly work together. Besides, we are all on the same team in the end. There have been many times in conflict that each of these units saved each others skins by assisting to wipe out an overwhelming opposing force.
So my answer to that question is "Do them all if you want to know which is the toughest or best trained otherwise pick one that best suits your strengths and interests."
Physically, the training programs are all tough and build mental toughness through testing the limits of the students through a variety of methods such as:
Each of these training programs will max you out physically in every exercise you attempt from pull-ups, pushups, situps, etc...Personally, this is the key to mental toughness as you can become tougher by working out harder to get the body an increased ability to build its pain tolerances without getting yourself injured. That is why many former athletes do well if they understand what it means to "play with pain."
Lack of Sleep / Mental Exhaustion
Each of the training programs also have long days and longer nights which amount to little or no sleep for long periods of time. This alone, physically and mentally, is demanding and does not allow your body to heal and rest properly after extreme physical exertion. So you are going strictly on "iron will" to make it through the day, especially after months of this training, when over-training syndrome starts to attack the body.
Miles of Running, Swimming, or Rucking Daily
Depending on the training you select, you will be doing miles of something which is challenging for hours of your day and night. The only way to prepare for these types of training is to do them for hours prior to attending the courses.
Miserable Water and Air Temperatures
No matter which school you select, you will be subject to cold, wet, damp, dirty environments as well as hot, humid, dry locations including high altitudes and jungles. Physiologically, these training locales wreak havoc on your body and decreases performance, but most of all it once again builds the iron will to never quit no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.
Minimal Food Eaten Daily
Some training programs (Army Rangers) add another area to challenge the will to keep moving - one meal a day or less. There will be days in training and especially "real life" where you do not have time to eat but you still have to keep moving and shooting. This challenges the body to conserve energy through long days and nights and teaches the soldier to eat well when given the opportunity.
So as you can see, each branch offers a Special Operations unit full of special people who work hard, train hard, and are some of the toughest fighters on the planet. Regardless which unit you select to be a part of, you cannot go wrong as you will be joining an elite group of fighters who proudly fight for the Red, White and Blue.
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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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.