Preparing Special Forces candidates

by 1st Lt. Frank Strong
Deputy Public Affairs Officer

The long, onerous, yet rewarding road to joining Special Forces begins with a program called Special Forces Indoctrination Program (SFIP) SFIP is a program that consists of four inactive duty training periods (IDT) and is designed to help prepare soldiers interested in joining the honorable ranks among the soldiers of the Special Forces.

SFIP takes place at Ft. Pickett, Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center. Each of the four IDT periods consists of six major training events on which SFIP candidates are tested. Day one of the program a candidate must be able to complete the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in accordance with the minimum standards for the 18-21 year old age group. That is a minimum of 42 push-ups, 52 sit-ups, and the two-mile run in a maximum time of 15:54, and a minimum of six pull-ups. Sounds like no problem, right? Wait, there's more. Each weekend also consists of land navigation training, a 50-meter swim in full battle dress uniform and combat boots, ruck-marches, land navigation training, confidence course negotiation, team events, and don't forget land navigation training! Guess what? It doesn't stop there. Each subsequent weekend gets progressively harder. More push-ups are required, longer and faster runs are demanded, ruck marches increase in length to build conditioning, and yes, land navigation skills are honed. SFIP requires that candidates wear a 55-pound ruck during land navigation training.

This is all done with good reason: to prepare soldiers for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Voss is the SFIP program operations NCO. Voss stated that, generally speaking the attrition rate from SFIP is 75-80 percent. SFC Voss is quick to point out that the program is not designed to "weed people out." The Special Forces needs quality people and the SFIP's purpose is to help prepare people for SFAS. The SFIP wants people to succeed. The SFIP and the personnel who facilitate the program will help candidates to be successful IF they show true commitment and improvement.

Some of the many ways that Voss and his cadre assist SFIP candidates are through classes. Extensive classes on land navigation skills are taught before candidates set out on the actual course. Usually the first practical exercise in land navigation is done in 'buddy teams' (teams of two). Classes on packing a tight rucksack and foot care are paramount. It is not uncommon for the very fine line between success and failure for candidates is drawn along the lines of proper foot care.

An aspect of SFIP that may be shocking is that candidates are allowed eight hours to sleep during the evenings of SFIP IDT periods. Voss explained this stems from the safety conscious philosophy of the SFIP program and the cadre. Candidates have been know to drive from as far away as the middle of North Carolina to attend this program. Depriving soldiers of rest during the program could prove fatal during the long drive home on Sunday evening. Rest be assured a candidate is going to need every wink of sleep they can get after the long and grueling day of training.

Don't mistake the safety conscious philosophy for weakness. SFIP is not easy. SFIP class number 3-99 (September-December 1999) had one survivor who is now ready to attend the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) course at Ft. Bragg, NC. Sgt.Vern Miller, the lone survivor, offers this advice to those who wish to undertake the challenge. "Don't come here unless you're ready to work."

The world of Special Forces offers almost "unlimited potential." According to the 91st Troop Command Special Forces Liaison Officer, Maj. Paul Watkins, as a member of the Special Forces in the Virginia Army National Guard, once you have complete all your training your commitment will be no different that of any other Virginian Army National Guardsmen. The opportunity is found in the fact that there is always work available for a qualified Special Forces soldier. It is quite possible to keep yourself employed year round conducting Special Forces related assignments. Additional training such as HALO (high altitude low opening) and Scuba courses are much more attainable as a member of the Special Forces.

If you are interested in becoming a Special Forces soldier, contact, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Voss (804) 292-8478 or email at <vossm@va-arng.ngb.army.mil>.