And most of the guys who do try and don’t quit probably could make it. You see, there’s four ways out of SFAS (or any of these deals).
- You can pass, the outcome everyone wants and hopes for, but not everyone gets;
- You can quit, in SF vernacular “VW” (voluntary withdrawal), in which case you get the dreaded “NTR letter” (Never To Return). The “Never” can be a little rubbery for a soldier that subsequently displays considerable character growth, though.
- You can fail for good, making it all the way to the end but not selecting, and receiving an NTR letter. (This is often the case when the many cadre observing proceedings take a view you’re not giving 100% or not a team player. Being a Spotlight Ranger is a great way to collect an NTR).
- You can fail for now, making it all the way to the end, not selecting, but being invited to try again. (Sometimes after a fixed interval of months or years). This is usually reserved for people who may nonselect for youth or inexperience, or who struggled with some aspect(s) of the assessment and selection process, but who favorably impressed the cadre with their character and persistence.
After many years of running these courses, the cadre are surprisingly skilled at selecting the youth who lacks maturity now and his peer who’s never going to be teammate material.
One reason Big Green kind of hates SF is because good conventional troopers and officers who go to SFAS and get NTR’d often sour on the Army. They either turn to dirtbags (the index case being Timothy McVeigh) or just get demoralized and get out.
An NTR does’t mean you’re worthless. It just means that this, and you, don’t fit together. A lesson a guy can’t learn unless, or until, he tries.
At Breach Bang Clear, there’s a remarkable and thoughtful appreciation of the SFAS experience from Eric Hack, a soldier who attended and failed to select — and yet, found it a positive, growth-catalyzing experience. Hack was a full-length non-select, but wasn’t NTR’d, and he hopes to return some day. We think that he is displaying the kind of maturity that his future ODA will welcome. (And believe it or not, whatever MOS you come from, wherever you have served, the time will come when your experience is pure gold to your teammates). Here’s a taste:
The rest of the day was a blur. I threw that set of ACUs away, took a baby wipe shower, brushed my teeth, and I think I took the psych test and IQ tests next (but those days all seemed to roll into one). I remember a safety brief on the “Star” land-nav course and the cadre talking about all the scary venomous snakes around, trying to get some of the less committed to quit right there. I grew up on a Missouri farm and knew how to handle snakes. I was more concerned about wandering onto some backwoods moonshine distillery and dealing with Ol’ Bubba.
The Star Course excited me. I was pretty skilled in map tracking and land navigation, and the Star Course marked the exact middle of the 14-day selection course. In 2008, the JFK Special Warfare Center and School experimented with shortening Special Forces Applicant Selection (SFAS) from 21 to 14 days in an attempt to get more soldiers in the Q-Course and more SF troops on the battlefield. The experiment was roundly rejected by the cadre. They warned us on Day 0 they were going to be extra critical because they wanted the experiment to fail. In this they were successful. Only ten percent of our 401 candidates completed the course. ….
I carried my rubber duck replica M-16A2, old LC-2 suspenders, a web belt, two one-quart canteens, an eighty-pound ruck with e-tool and two two-quart canteens on the sides, an additional three-liter CamelBak on top, and all the rain and sweat my equipment could soak up.
I was cold, hungry, tired, and sick. I would routinely look at the stock of my rubber rifle to read the words a previous candidate carved: “KEEP GOING.”
Amen to that.
…even though I was miserable and the 18D was jacking with me, I was having the time of my life. Some might see that guy as an asshole, but I got the message: he wanted me to succeed, but the only way he would help me was by pissing me off. He wasn’t there to encourage or coddle me. He was there to challenge me and let me prove I had what it took to earn the right to go to the Q-course.
But while that excerpt is all fine and good, you really ought to Read The Whole Thing™. We can assure you that Eric suffered considerably to be in a position to write it. And he’s got the guts to want to go suffer again. (A lot of guys pass selection on a second pass, and some take more than that). Pure pigheaded stubbornness is a Regimental value, in the Special Forces Regiment.