Cellulitis, Selection & Sleep Deprivation

We jumped off the trucks, grabbed all of our equipment and walked into the transit lines. Everybody collapsed on their beds and went straight to sleep.


I, however, was off to see the medic. My elbow and most of my left arm was double its normal size. I had bursitis of the elbow and it was infected. I required IV antibiotics.


It was day 30 of the Commando Selection and Training Course or CSTC. Those of us left on the course, 30 from the original 100, estimated we had 3 or 4 days to go before Selection was over.


We were midway through the penultimate phase of training. The FMP’s or full mission profiles. We were required to complete a full mission from concept of operations through to the prosecution of the mission and finally the debrief.


We had just completed the second of three missions and were given directions to get some sleep before the debrief. It was 0600 hrs. We hadn’t been given specific timings, but I suspected they weren’t going to allow us much sleep at all… it being Selection and all.


We had one more FMP to complete before moving into the final phase…


Demarcation. A 2-3 day operation with no food and no sleep. The worst phase of the Selection process.


I looked down at my arm, tracked the IV line up to the saline bag filled with ‘anti-fat arm’ antibiotics that was attached to the stand. I was willing the fluid down the tube and into my arm. I really needed to get to bed. The bag didn’t seem to be draining at all, but maybe that was just my imagination.


I drifted off into slumber, but the medic on duty kept startling me awake banging around with whatever crap he was attending to. I’m sure it was a ploy to keep me awake. I felt like wrapping my IV line around his neck to silence him, but before I could enact my plan, a veil of darkness filled my vision and I was sleep again.


I felt a shake on my arm. “You’re done.”


My eyes shot open and I sat up. Confusion hit and I didn’t know where I was.


“You can go back to your lines now,” the same voice said.


I looked over my right shoulder.


It was the annoyingly loud medic.


I remembered where I was.


“How long have I been asleep?” I asked.


“About 15mins,” he replied.


“A good nights sleep then,” I said sarcastically. “I’m ready for another 32 days.”


I stumbled out of the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) and proceeded back to my bed like a zombie. By this time it was 0700 hrs. I collapsed onto the bed and was asleep before the bedsprings had a chance to rebound.


“EVERYBODY UP!” Came the raucous call from outside our lines.


I lifted my head, wiped the drool from my mouth with my right hand and looked at the G-Shock on my left wrist.


0710 hrs.




The final FMP had commenced.


Over the next 24 hours, we planned, rehearsed and executed another mission, received about 20mins sleep the following day before entering the final phase of Selection…




From rumours of previous courses, we had assumed demarcation lasted 40 hours. We were wrong.


Demarcation is tough. You basically move from one activity to the next carrying awkward and heavy equipment, patrolling, conducting snap missions and ambushes. This is all continuous movement with no sleep and little rest. ‘Rest’ included digging trenches with your small entrenching tool or even smaller cups canteen (small steel cup).


We did each receive half a cup of rice after day 2, which was nice of them. That was some sweet, sweet rice.


The lack of food was certainly draining, but the worst thing throughout the demarcation phase and Selection as a whole was the sleep deprivation.


Sleep deprivation sucks. And it sucks hard.


Once your body is deprived of the essential element of sleep, you lose focus and clarity. It’s hard to concentrate, think quickly and process information. Hand-eye coordination leaves you, well-known skills evaporate and remembering a person’s name seems as intellectually difficult as solving a Rubix void cube…




On what was to be the last night of demarcation and indeed the entire Selection course, I was lying in a defensive position around a stronghold we had just secured. It was without a doubt the most tired I had ever felt in my life.


While I was lying there, straining to hold my head up let alone my weapon, resisting the urge to sleep and barely able to engage in conscious self-talk, I thought to myself…


“I can’t possibly stay awake another night.”


At that point on day 34 of Selection, I couldn’t actually comprehend staying awake for another night. It just seemed impossible, physically impossible.


While I was contemplating this conundrum, I felt a kick to my ribs and looked up. There was an opposing figure with night vision goggles staring down at me, smiling. It was another candidate. I didn’t know him well at the time, but he seemed like a good dude and I was to get to know him extremely well over the next two and a half years. We became great friends. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.


“Come on mate, let’s go,” he said.




“We have to go on a clearing patrol, there might be bad guys out there,” he said sarcastically.


“Right,” I replied.


“What else you got to do anyway? It’ll be fun,” he said still smiling.


I smiled back. He was right; I didn’t have anything else to do. I got up and trundled off.


At that moment I had a mindset shift. Instead of thinking how much I still had to do, I started to realise how much I’d already achieved. I’d completed 34 days of a Special Forces Selection course and while I certainly didn’t want to quit, I was focusing on the negative rather than the positive.


From that point on I’ve always chosen to focus on the positives, how much I’ve achieved in the past and how much I can gain confidence from all those past wins. This gives me the belief and confidence that I can achieve any other task I set myself while keeping me motivated, persistent and committed to completing those tasks.


This has been an effective and successful mindset strategy I’ve used ever since Selection, and it will help you too. Gain confidence from all your past wins and utilise that confidence to propel you forward and achieve further wins.


Sometimes you’ll make that mindset shift yourself and sometimes you just need a kick in the arse from a good mate to remind you.


Rhys Dowden

Operator Edge

Mindset is a choice








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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 physical 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. Later in his career, he served on Steve Irwin’s personal security detail at the Australia Zoo for six months and then worked as a private security contractor in Iraq between 2004 and 2006 before re-enlisting in the Army and going through the Commando Selection and Training Course in 2008.