Friday, May 18, 2012

Dark Place

The Army's Special Forces Assessment and Selection is a 19 day course. I, unfortunately, only made it to day 16. 

Other than some “18X-Rays” whom were trained from their first day of joining the Army, no one at SFAS class 7-12 was more prepared than me. 

While being cognizant to the integrity and secrecy of the course, I can tell you that I performed remarkably well during the first week of Selection. 

During that initial week, all events are those that the Commanding General has made public knowledge the standards. During timed ruck marches, runs, and an obstacle course, I literally completed each event among the top ten finishers. 

Candidates were allowed an aggregate time in which they must complete these events. My combined time left me with an excess of an hour under the time limit. The final event of the first week was a land navigation course considered one of the most demanding within the Army. I struggled the first night, finding only three of four points, but during the second iteration, I located all four points with nearly two hours to spare before the exercise's culmination. 

On day 15 of Special Forces Assessment and Selection, I was among the very most likely of all candidates to be selected for Special Forces training if only I completed the course in its entirety. 

Day 16 was day one of “team events.” Again, without exposing more of the course than I feel comfortable, I will share that “team events” are basically Selection's equivalent ot the Navy Seal's “Hell Week.” 

I finished the entire day, and it was grueling. I feel like it was particularly challenging for me because of my height relative to my teammates. My height caused me, perhaps, to bear weight excess to that of my teammates. That, no doubt, however, is an excuse, and not the reason for my failure. 

My failure was due to my own lack of resolve, alone. 

Day 16 took everything I had within me to complete. 

A friend of mine at Selection, another Forward Observer in fact, had described the pit falls of reaching one's “dark place.” 

That night, with so little remaining between me and my life-long goal of being selected for Special Forces training, I momentarily encountered that “dark place.” 

For one second that night, sitting outside my tent on a stack of all my belongings, I considered how much easier life would be if only I didn't have to exert the same effort the next day as I had during the previous 16-or-so hours.

And that's all it took. 

I was in a peculiar place. Following day one of team events, I received praise from my team's Special Forces cadre. He acknowledged that I had exerted particularly superior effort. He simultaneously indicated that he didn't think I could maintain the same effort because of the exhaustion I had endured. 

And that's about all it took... 

Inexplicably, I convinced myself that he was right. 

I couldn't do this. 

It suddenly was no matter that I had trained for over a year. Disregard the two-a-day workouts, the disciplined diet, the sacrificed drinking and good times; suddenly, I was convinced that I had nothing left. 

I pulled guard that night and gave my options deep thought. But my “dark place” had replaced my motivation. 

The following morning, upon wake-up, I informed my teammates that I had nothing left. I then indicated the same to the cadre and officially withdrew from class 7-12 of SFAS. 

I did what I never thought imaginable, and quit. 

And that was it. The only goal I have ever aspired to during my entire life was abandoned. 

That, my friends, is a “Voluntary Withdrawal's” recollection of Special Forces Assessment and Selection. In a nutshell. 

The course was everything I desired it to be: demanding and professional. I, on the other hand, was something less. 

The experience was a great one. As a former active duty soldier, now in the National Guard, I was reminded of all the reasons I loved the military. I was reunited with like-minded individuals, and met men that, after two short weeks, I will consider friends for life. 

The cadre, for the most part, were experts and set standards of attitude and mentality that I wished to emulate but could not. 

The environment on Camp Mackall was inspiring. Special Forces candidates were overhead hanging from helicopters on SPIES rigs. Gun fire was rampant. Qualification Course students training Small Unit Tactics shared our training grounds. Everything was perfect. Except my own dedication. 

I met some amazing people. A fellow candidate tripped and smashed his weapon's front sight post into his forehead before reaching the third of four points during the land navigation course. He continued to locate the fourth point, and then arrived at the finish line nearly unconscious from loss of blood. Quitting, no doubt, never crossed his mind. 

He was ultimately selected for Special Forces training. As a quitter myself, his dedication makes my own feel amazingly inadequate. 

Another friend set the course record for minimal time needed to locate his land navigation points. Prior to doing so, he and I shared tales of how awesome our Qualification Course experience was going to be.

Unfortunately, unlike him, I will not be there. 

And I have no one, and no thing, to blame. 

I failed, and I am incredibly disappointed. In myself.

1 comment:

  1. This was a fantastic read. I think we learn more from our failures than from our triumphs.

    A very valuable lesson I've held close to my heart is to never be so attached to an outcome that we forget to take heed of all the experiences and lessons along the way.

    Also your writing style is fantastic.

    From an 11B, thanks for having the humility and the courage to write about your failure.