So You Want to Be a Special Operator?

How Do You Know if You Have What It Takes?


It starts with your story. Everyone has a story to tell, and some aspects of your story are truly special in some significant way.

Bill’s Story

Here’s my story. I’m older, in great health, continue to challenge myself, and stay current with the times. I recently attempted kite boarding and will shelve that until next spring as winter approaches here in Vermont. Anyone who’s tried kite boarding knows that the first order of business is for you to fly the kite, not for the kite to fly you.

I served 20+ years as a career U.S. Navy SEAL, one of the most rewarding and challenging things I’ve ever done with my life to date. I loved most everything about being a special operator. It was my passion.

Like many of us, my formative years weren’t that “special.” I graduated high school; had limited success in college following high school and left after two years with only 45 credits instead of 60; and I held unskilled labor jobs during my teen years. My greatest interest and talent, growing up, was playing the trumpet. I aspired to one day perform classically, to be like Maurice Andre. That aspiration all but disappeared before I graduated high school.

I then decided I’d join the Navy, and in boot camp there were these puffy chested guys in tight tee-shirts who introduced themselves as SEALs. They showed a ‘propaganda’ film and I was hooked. I went to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) Training after completing ship fitter school, and the rest is history.

Special Ops Mentor

More transition followed after my Navy career, until I became a Warrior Challenge Mentor working for Navy Recruiting Command and Navy Recruiting District New England. I had the good fortune to train future SEALs and other Navy special operations wannabes, working with hundreds of candidates for nearly 10 years.

So, what makes a good special operations (SPEC OPS) candidate? Regardless of which branch and which job, the ‘raw ingredients’ are essentially the same. Years of studies and millions of dollars spent trying to answer that question haven’t solved the mystery of high attrition in all the SPEC OPS school houses.
I’m not being preferential when I assert that the SEAL ethos or code pretty much nails what it means to be a SPEC OPS warrior.

  • You need an uncommon desire to succeed; no matter what.
  • You embrace and even thrive in adversity in all its forms.
  • You live your life with honor, courage and commitment, even when no one is looking.
  • You honor and respect heritage and tradition.
  • You hold yourself accountable, always, and believe and exemplify ‘task before ego, team before self’ for the good of others, and society at large.
  • You lead and follow, always ready to step up as needed.
  • You and your teammates are disciplined, flexible, and adapt and overcome instinctually.
  • Unless, with your teammates or in private, you suffer and rejoice in silence.
  • Your exceptional desire to succeed is uncommon and what makes you special; never lose sight of that.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you must first meet the physical, mental and moral requirements each service has before you pursue your SPEC OPS dream. U.S. Armed Forces general entry requirements are more stringent than ever. There are many good resources available to better prepare you for the physical and mental requirements. If you fall just short of the moral requirements, a good attorney or center of influence is your only chance for acceptance.

If you clear general entry requirements, next comes a set of even tougher physical, mental and moral entry requirements for SPEC OPS. Why? You want to be someone special, to join a small, elite group that’s by no means elitist, except when it comes to protecting and preserving one another and our precious way of life.

If you clear those two hurdles, then with good foresight, you allow yourself time to physically and mentally prepare for the extreme rigors of your SPEC OPS pipeline. Learn all you can about the job you want, and find and learn from the countless, good resources available to better prepare you.

Armed with knowledge and an uncommon-desire-to-succeed-mindset, your last two, and perhaps most important assets in your preparation will be other like-minded individuals, and mentors, someone who’s ‘been there, done that.’

You’ll know when you’re with the right like-minded individuals because you’ll feel at home with them almost immediately. You’ll hang out and have a sense of belonging. You’ll push one another and find humor and humility in your time together, during which you’ll challenge yourselves, hone your skills, all the while learning about yourself, your teammates, and your future together.

Mentors are icing on the cake. They’re out there, serving candidates like you either formally or informally. The better mentors may be more challenging to find because they’re still quiet professionals. Once you find them, take full advantage of all they have to offer. If you’ve done your homework, and you’re already physically and mentally ‘fit’ before you meet them, they will see that in you, and take you to a new level of preparedness you had no idea about – even furthering – your opportunity to succeed, to be someone special. To be the special operator you are meant to be.


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