United States Army Special Forces selection and training

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Special Forces soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), conduct shoot-house training at Fort Carson in September 2009.

The Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) or, informally, the Q Course is the initial formal training program for entry into the United States Army Special Forces. Phase I of the Q Course is Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS).[1] Getting "Selected" at SFAS will enable a candidate to continue on to the next of the four phases. If a candidate successfully completes all four phases he will graduate as a Special Forces qualified soldier and then, generally, be assigned to a 12-man Operational Detachment "A" (ODA), commonly known as an "A team." The length of the Q Course changes depending on the applicant's primary job field within Special Forces and their assigned foreign language capability but will usually last between 56 to 95 weeks.


Special Forces Qualification Course

Special Forces Assessment and Selection (Phase I)

A version of SFAS was first introduced as a selection mechanism in the mid-1980s by the Commanding General of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at the time, Brigadier General James Guest.

Candidates in SFAS class 04-10 participate in logs drills in January 2010.

There are now two ways for soldiers to volunteer to attend SFAS:

  • As an existing soldier in the US Army with the Enlisted rank of E-3 (Private First Class) or higher, and for Officers the rank of O-2 (1st Lieutenant) promotable to O-3 (Captain), or existing O-3s.
  • The other path is that of direct entry, referred to as Initial Accession or IA. Here an individual who has no prior military service or who has previously separated from military service is given the opportunity to attend SFAS. Both the Active Duty and National Guard components offer Special Forces Initial Accession programs. The Active Duty program is referred to as the "18X Program" because of the Initial Entry Code that appears on the assignment orders. These soldiers will attend Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT, the combination of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training), Airborne School, and a preparation course to help prepare them for SFAS. This program is commonly referred to as the "X-Ray Program", derived from "18X". The candidates in this program are known as "X-Rays"

All SF trainees must have completed the United States Army Airborne School before beginning Phase 2 of the Q-Course.

Training at SFAS

A Canadian soldier participates in a timed march alongside US Army soldiers during the Special Forces Qualification Course. In 2009 the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center began to once again accept some students from allied nations wishing to attend the school.

The first phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course is Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), consisting of 24 days of training held at Camp Mackall.[2][3]

Events in SFAS include numerous long distance land navigation courses. All land navigation courses are conducted day and night under heavy loads of equipment, in varied weather conditions, and in rough, hilly terrain. Land navigation work is done individually with no assistance from instructors or fellow students and is always done on a time limit. Each land navigation course has its maximum time limit reduced as course moves along and are upwards of 12 miles (19 km) each. Instructors evaluate candidates by using obstacle course runs, team events including moving heavy loads such as telephone poles and old jeep trucks through sand as a 12-man team, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), a swim assessment, and numerous psychological exams such as IQ tests and the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test. The final event, which was discontinued in early 2009, was a road march of up to 32 miles (51 km) known as "the Trek" or Long Range Individual Movement (LRIM).

Selection outcomes:

  • Those who quit are Voluntarily Withdrawn (VW) by the course cadre are generally designated NTR or Not-to-Return. This generally ends any opportunity a candidate may have to become a Special Forces soldier. Active Duty military candidates will be returned to their previous units, and IA 18X candidates will be transferred to infantry units as 11B Infantrymen.
  • Candidates who are "medically dropped," and who are not then medically discharged from the military due to serious injury, are often permitted to "recycle," and to attempt the course again as soon as they are physically able to do so.
  • Candidates who successfully complete the course but who are "Boarded" and not selected ("Non-Select") are generally given the opportunity to attend selection again in 12 or 24 months.[4]

Upon selection at SFAS, all Active Duty enlisted and IA 18X candidates will be briefed on: The five Special Forces Active Duty Groups The four Special Forces Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) initially open to them The languages utilized in each Special Forces Group Candidates will then complete what is often referred to as a '"wish list." Enlisted candidates will rank in order of preference the MOS that he prefers (18B, 18C, 18D, 18E). Officer candidates will attend the 18A course. Both enlisted and officer candidates will list in order of preference the SF Groups in which they prefer to serve (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th) and the languages in which they prefer to be trained. Language selection is dependent on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test scores of the candidate, as well as the SF Group to which they are assigned. Different SF Groups focus on different areas of responsibility (AOR), which require different languages. A board assigns each enlisted and officer candidate his MOS, Group placement, and language. The MOS, Group, and language that a selected candidate is assigned is not guaranteed, and is contingent upon the needs of the Special Forces community. Generally 80% of selected candidates are awarded their primary choices.

Successful Active Duty candidates usually return to their previous units to await a slot in the Special Forces Qualification Course. Because an Initial Accession (IA) 18X candidate lacks a previous unit, he will normally enter the Q Course immediately.

Language Training (Phase II)

When a candidate enters the remainder of the Q Course, he is assigned to the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. This training is phases 2–6 of the Q-Course.

Phase II currently consists of 18 or 24 weeks of intense language training. Upon completion of this training, candidates are required to attain a minimum rating score (1/1) in their assigned language, scored on the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI).

Small Unit Tactics & SERE (Phase III)

After Phase II, candidates begin Phase III, which is a 13-week block of instruction in Small Unit Tactics (SUT) including raids, ambushes, patrols, recons, and other strikes against enemy forces. Students learn how to properly plan these operations using Warning Orders, Operations Order, and Frag Orders, as well as other mission planning techniques. The students will plan, present, lead and execute these operations. This part of phase III focuses on small unit tactics and patrolling. During Phase III, students also attend the three week Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) course (level C).

Specialty training, ROBIN SAGE & graduation (Phase IV)

Following the completion of Phase III, candidates then begin Phase IV, for specific training within one of the five initial Special Forces specialties: 18A – Detachment Commander for commissioned officers and 18B – Weapons Sergeant, 18C – Engineering Sergeant, 18D – Medical Sergeant, and 18E – Communications Sergeant for non-commissioned officers. The 18A, 18B, 18C, and 18E training courses are 16 weeks long while the 18D training course is 48 weeks long.

A Special Forces candidate conducts a pre-mission rehearsal with Army ROTC cadets role playing guerilla fighters during ROBIN SAGE.

The candidates culminate their Special Forces training by participating in Operation ROBIN SAGE, a 4 week long large-scale unconventional warfare exercise conducted by the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and over 50,000 square miles (130,000 km2) of North Carolina.[5] For more than half a century, around a third of North Carolina has served as the fictional "People's Republic of Pineland" for the 28-day[6] exercise which culminates in the 19-day[7] Robin Sage. Pineland consists of Alamance, Anson, Cabarrus, Chatham, Davidson, Davie, Guilford, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland, Stanly and Union Counties of North Carolina.[8] During this unconventional warfare training exercise, the Special Forces students are required to apply and exercise the skills taught in the Special Forces Qualification Course.

The students are put into 12-man ODAs, organized the same way they are in a real mission.[9] Students are isolated for 5 days and issued an operations order. They begin their planning process and study material required to execute their detachment's mission during the exercise.[10]

The 15 counties that make up the People's Republic of Pineland

On the last day of isolation the detachment presents its plan to the battalion command and staff. This plan will explain how the commander intends to execute the mission. The next day, the students make an airborne infiltration into the country of Pineland. They then make contact with the guerrilla forces and begin Robin Sage. Students will then begin their task of training, advising, and assisting the guerrillas. The training will educate the guerrillas in various specialties, including weapons, communications, medical, and demolitions. The training is designed to enable the guerrillas to begin liberating their country from oppression. It is the last portion of the Special Forces Qualification Course before they receive their "Green Berets".

ROBIN SAGE involves approximately 100 Special Forces students, 100 counter-insurgent personnel (OPFOR), 200 guerrilla personnel, 40 auxiliary personnel, and 50 cadre. The local communities of North Carolina also participate in the exercise by role playing as citizens of Pineland.[11] The exercise is conducted in approximately 50,000 square miles (130,000 km2) of North Carolina. Many of the OPFOR and guerrilla personnel are made up of North Carolina residents who are financially compensated for their participation.[12] The role of the guerrilla chief, "G-chief," is sometimes played by a retired Green Beret. In previous years, during the summer Robin Sage exercises, Army ROTC cadets acted as the OPFOR or guerrilla fighters.[13] Participation of AROTC cadets in Robin Sage has not taken place since summer of 2009.

Death during ROBIN SAGE

On 23 February 2002,[7] during an off-post traffic stop, Moore County Deputy Sheriff Randall Butler shot to death 1st Lieutenant Tallas Tomeny, 31, and wounded Staff Sergeant Stephen Phelps, 25, during a Robin Sage exercise.[14] The two soldiers had presumed that Butler was aware of the Robin Sage training, and when stopped, attempted to bribe him with "Don" (Pineland currency), which looks similar to Monopoly money.[14] The deputy used his entire supply of chemical spray on Tomeny, who backpedaled and screamed, shaking his head. Phelps continued to think that the deputy was part of the play of the exercise and grabbed the bag holding his machine gun, running for cover. Butler shot Tomeny once, turned, and shot the fleeing Phelps twice after telling him to show his hands.[14] Prior to the accident, there was confidence within the military establishment that the law enforcement community of North Carolina was well familiarized with the exercise. Press releases are now issued before an exercise commences and law enforcement officers who participate in the training are now required to wear a distinctive uniform.

On 27 October 2009 a federal civil trial jury in Greensboro, North Carolina awarded $750,000 to Phelps after he sued Butler and the Moore County Sheriff's office. Tomeny's estate had previously settled out-of-court with the sheriff's office. Jurors said that they did not believe portions of Butler's testimony about what had occurred during the shooting incident.[15]

Further training

After successfully completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Forces soldiers are then eligible for many advanced skills courses. These include, but are not limited to, the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course (MFF), the Combat Diver Qualification Course and the Special Forces Sniper Course (formerly known as the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course).[16] All Special Forces soldiers conduct real world, non-combat operations in order to maintain their skills. Special Forces Medical Sergeants (18D) often work in both military and civilian Emergency Rooms in between deployments.[17]

Additionally, because one of the Special Forces soldier's primary mission is the instruction of other forces, they participate extensively in special operations training courses offered by other services and allied nations throughout their careers.

Post Q Course Special Forces training
A Special Forces Master Sergeant gives pointers to two other Special Forces soldiers at a NATO sniper course in Germany.  
Entering the water during the pool phase of the Special Forces Underwater Operations School at Naval Air Station Key West.  
Conducting hostage rescue drills in Germany.  
Cold weather training in Gunnison National Forest.  
Firing a Carl Gustav rocket during training in Basrah, Iraq.  
Climbing out of the Worthington Glacier in Alaska at the Special Forces Master Mountaineer course.  
Practicing IED detection and clearing at the Hawthorne Army Depot.  
Chemical Recon Detachment training at Fort Carson.  
Two instructors critique a Special Forces soldier at a HALO jump course at the Yuma Proving Grounds.  
Conducting training at Castle Rock near Leavenworth, Washington to maintain basic mountaineering skills.  


  1. ^ Department of the Army, Special Forces Overview, http://www.goarmy.com/special_forces/
  2. ^ "Training , GoArmy.com". Httphealthcare.goarmy.com. http://httphealthcare.goarmy.com/special_forces/training.jsp#sfas. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  3. ^ Ausspecialforces.Com. "Comparative information on US and Australian Special Forces Selection attrition rates". http://www.ausspecialforces.com/selection.htm.
  4. ^ The time window to attend SFAS a second time can be heavily influenced by deployment schedules, as "non-selected" candidates are assigned to infantry units in the meantime.
  5. ^ Alex Chung. "Cadet Perspective on Robin Sage". Marquette University. http://www.marquette.edu/rotc/army/training/robin1.shtml.
  6. ^ "Final Exam for Green Berets". Training.sfahq.com. 27 October 2002. http://www.training.sfahq.com/article_final_exam_green_berets_02_10_27.htm. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  7. ^ a b John Pike. "Robin Sage". Globalsecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/robin-sage.htm. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  8. ^ 070619-01 PRESS RELEASE: Special Forces exercise ‘Robin Sage’ to begin[dead link]
  9. ^ "Final Exam for Green Berets". Special Forces Search Engine. http://www.training.sfahq.com/article_final_exam_green_berets_02_10_27.htm. Retrieved 8 March 2007.
  10. ^ "Robin Sage SFQC". Ghost Recon. 18 June 2003. http://www.ghostrecon.net/html/gr2-3-robin-sage.htm. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  11. ^ John Pike. "Marines train alongside soldiers at Robin Sage exercise". Globalsecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2005/03/mil-050311-usmc04.htm. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  12. ^ Central N.C. residents notified of Robin Sage exercises." WRAL.com. N.p., 01 08 2010. Web. 10 Jun 2011. <http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/8068218/> para 4
  13. ^ http://www.marquette.edu/rotc/army/training-summer-robin.shtml
  14. ^ a b c "Conflicting version of Robin Sage Incident". Training.sfahq.com. http://www.training.sfahq.com/article_conflicting_version_02_11_1.htm. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  15. ^ Associated Press, "Jury awards at least $750,000 to former soldier", Military Times, 28 October 2009.
  16. ^ http://www.shadowspear.com/vb/threads/shooters-and-thinkers-the-special-forces-sniper-course.3181/
  17. ^ Carol Smith (19 March 2003). "Medics hone their 'perishable skills'". Seattle PI. http://www.seattlepi.com/local/113295_medic20.shtml.


External links