8 Things I Learned In Special Forces - Part 1

Let's be honest, I've watched Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at least 147 times...

... at least!

While it's a great movie, it's typical Hollywood and there's many, many things wrong with the movie in regards to how things actually are within a Special Forces unit and the missions we undertake.

So it got me thinking about some of the most important lessons I learned while in the Army. It also got me thinking about the total myths about Special Forces that Hollywood like to perpetrate.

Here are 10 things I learned in Special Forces...and a few myths busted!

1. Self-Reliance

After completing Commando Selection and the Reinforcement Cycle to receive my green beret, I was pretty confident. I'd been through a lot and came out the other side a stronger, more resilient individual...

... and I needed to be.

Nobody in the unit was going to hold my hand every step of the way to ensure I was 'ok'. When I received my green beret I was expected to perform immediately. I was expected to be able to get the job done at a high level without supervision. My teammates were relying on me.

If a situation was challenging, I didn't automatically run to someone for support to fix it. I dug in and attempted to work it out for myself and often I was successful.

It would appear that very few people nowadays make the effort to try and work out problems for themselves and find solutions. People are all too quick to give up and run off to find help without giving themselves the chance to learn and grow.

Yes, it may take you a little longer to work out the problem, but giving yourself the opportunity to succeed in challenging tasks will pay off 10x fold in momentum, confidence, pride and persistence.

It will build your character with attributes and your mind with knowledge. Don't automatically look for the easy way out and give your problems to others to fix. Begin to build your self-reliance by giving yourself the chance to learn and succeed. You will be genuinely surprised at what you can accomplish.

2. Controlled Aggression

I like this saying a lot. There's a HUGE difference between aggression and controlled aggression.

Aggression is uncontrolled and reactive. It shows low emotional intelligence and is hard to direct and utilise in a positive manner. It's a negative emotion, which people often don't consciously choose to employ.

Controlled aggression however, is managed and directed. The individual consciously chooses to employ this tactic by utilising its power and directing it where and when they need it. It's a positive emotion.

Within Commandos I was taught controlled aggression early on. With everything we were required to undertake, i.e. parachuting, live fire training, helicopter underwater emergency training, room floor combat, demolitions and combat - just to name a few, we needed to be aggressive. Aggressive to get over fears, hurdles and setbacks but controlled to employ intelligent thinking, problem solving and teamwork.

Utilise controlled aggression to get fired up for a task you may be nervous or anxious about. Harness the energy to complete a task, but remain clear-headed, emotionally intelligent and in control.

3. Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening in your immediate vicinity.

More simply, it is recognising what is going on around you.

Situational Awareness is a key attribute in Special Forces training. It's probably the number one attribute potential candidates are assessed on throughout the Selection process.

And for good reason...

Commando's mainly utilise live fire training to prepare accurately for operational deployments. During this training, we conduct 'run throughs' within the room floor combat range all with live rounds. We engage targets in a 360-degree arc and fire rounds within inches of our team members. All this is conducted in visually restrictive S10 respirators or gas masks.

Start developing your situational awareness now. Be diligent about what's happening around you. Process the information that's being presented to you and see things before they happen.

Even if you can't prevent problems from occurring, good situational awareness will provide you with a sense of control, a sense of awareness and calmness that will allow you to overcome any setbacks quickly and move forward.

If you combine your knowledge of situational awareness with emotional intelligence, you will develop a cool, calm and focused mindset willing and able to react in a positive manner to the environment around you.

4. Sometimes you'll look like an idiot

During my sniper course we were conducting practice stalks in which we had to locate the enemy, find a hiding position and set up before taking a shot. It was a stressful time during the course and I managed to make it even harder for myself.

The senior instructor, or SI, was talking to one of the students about the scope on the rifle and how it functioned internally. He was describing how moving the outside elevation and lateral dials of the scope effected the position of the crosshairs within the scope and therefore, where your barrel pointed and your bullet impacted the target.

I was pretty tired at this point and only got the end of the conversation. I blurted out...

"So the bullet leaves the barrel of the rifle already having been adjusted to hit the target?"

The instructor looked at me blankly for a minute and then burst out laughing along with the other 4-5 students within earshot.

With my question, I had implied that the bullet could in fact change direction later on down the trajectory path in mid-air. Basically, an act of God!

I chastised myself. I was tired and wasn't having the best day (or couple of weeks for that matter) and this simply topped it off. I was embarrassed for a while, took the laughter on the chin, got over it and moved on.

If you make a mistake and look like an idiot, own it, learn from it, let it go and move on. Most likely, everybody else will too.

Special Forces Myths busted...

1. SF guys are muscle bound - In Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers are huge! This is simply not the case within most Special Forces units. It's not practical. With the specific requires of the job plus the constant deployments and travelling, I don't recall any soldier who was overly muscular. Bodyweight strength, speed, explosive strength and endurance were the main physical requires needed to do the job well.

2. Patrolling shirtless - A cool look in Predator was after the assault on the jungle camp, half the team began the exfiltration without shirts on and only wearing their vests. Although it looks cool, I never saw this occur. In the movie, with the thick vegetation and insects, patrolling shirtless would be stupid and reckless. Plus, you'd look like a tool.

3. Massive knives - Most of the characters in Predator seemed to carry huge hunting knives. Now obviously in the jungle you would need machetes to try and cut through the jungle, but having massive hunting knives serves no purpose except to look cool and take up space on your kit. The only knives we ever carried were small precision implements.

Comments? Let me know!

Part 2 next week...

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About the Author

Rhys Dowden is the owner of Operator Edge, a company through which he provides to his clients extensive mental conditioning along with military, self-defense, and strength training.

Growing up in Queensland, Rhys enlisted in the Army as soon as he was 18 and then served a little more than four years in the Royal Australian Armored Corps.

Read more here...