Cool, You got Selected - Now What?

Tips for navigating the Special Forces Qualification Course

Special Forces Assessment and Selection gets all the hype. Green Beret hopefuls often pedestalize it as the only thing standing between them and their dream of being a Special Forces Soldier. If you’ve yet to attend selection, SFAS absolutely should be your main focus.

Thinking too much about the special forces qualification course (SFQC) prior to even getting selected is not the best use of real estate between the ears. But being confident in your ability to get selected, and doing a bit of future-casting for what life will be like for in the SFQC (also known as “The Q” or “Q Course” - I will refer to it however my fingers decide to type it throughout this article) is absolutely acceptable. Additionally, plenty of people already have earned the “Selected” outcome and are rightfully looking ahead at the experiences to come. 

Although the Q course isn’t a complete mystery, there’s still plenty of mystique surrounding it. What’s the best part? What’s the worst part? How do I ensure I don’t get dropped? What should I focus on? What if I’m an 18X-ray with no military experience? If you’ve ever found yourself asking any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place.

This article will not give anything away. It will not be a day by day, phase by phase breakdown. You could know exactly what you’re going to do every day in every phase and guess what, you still have to actually go do it. In fact, most of the guys who want all the answers are the ones who end up struggling the most. Those who take it a day at a time and weather the storm usually struggle the least.

Most of the information herein is based on my personal experience with the Q course, which I attended from March of 2012 to July of 2014 (I was an 18D, hence the “extended stay”). I was a 22 year old 18x-ray (aka X-ray - a contract that allows civilians an opportunity to attend SFAS without first spending time in another Army unit) when I finished selection and entered the Q course. Later in the article, I’ll speak to some of the difficulties X-rays commonly face and how to navigate them. 

Candidly, I’m unaware of the exact structure or phase breakdown of the current Q course. Add to that, because the structure is always changing, by the time you get there, it may be different. But regardless, the concepts and lessons remain the same. My hope is to provide expectation management, big things to focus on, and of course, what not to do. Let’s dive in.

I often receive the following questions: “What is the worst part of the Q course?” and “What is the best part of the Q course?

I’ve never been able to answer them, because in my experience, there is no single worst or best part. The most difficult aspect of the Q course is the sheer duration. To succeed, you need to be able to accept delayed gratification. Although you’ll receive mini rewards throughout the Q course as you complete the various phases, the real reward doesn’t occur until you don the Green Beanie at graduation. If you’re unable to break things down into small goals and narrow your focus towards achieving them, you’ll struggle with anxiety and constant doubt. It’s designed that way.

Working in special forces requires the ability to accept delayed gratification and continue to put in the work with no immediate reward or accolade. The best aspect of the Q course is learning about yourself. You’ll fail sometimes. You’ll succeed other times. You’ll make lifelong friends. You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses. 

Day 0 of selection is when you’ll begin building a reputation that will accompany you throughout your career. The Q course is filled with opportunities to improve your reputation or tarnish it. Leaving the Q course with a good reputation is paramount for a successful career in SF. On the flipside, exiting the Q as a “shitbag” is your ticket to a lackluster career.

Knowing you’re being assessed at all times and approaching every day with this in mind will make or break you. Those with the mental fortitude and self confidence to use this as fuel are the ones who go on to make great Green Berets. Those who can’t negotiate the pressure typically end up struggling. If you slipped through the cracks at selection, it’s highly likely to become apparent in the Q course. Your goal should be to continue to prove every day that you’re unequivocally the right guy for the job.


Single vs/married living situation

The Q is a grind - not every single day, but as a whole. You’ll have periods of time where the hours are long. You’ll start working when it’s dark, you’ll finish when it’s dark. Or, you’ll continue working through periods of darkness. Being single and lower enlisted in the Q course presents its own difficulties, but in my honest (albeit biased) opinion, it’s the best situation for success. That being said, I’m by no means recommending that if you’re married already that you should file for divorce. If you have kids, you don’t need to disown them. 

Being married and/or married with kids isn’t a ticket to failure by any stretch. But it can simply present another obstacle to negotiate because the reality is, you may find your family coming second to focusing on the Q course. Being honest and upfront with your significant other is a must. Expectation management is just as important for a spouse. If your spouse is highly dependent on your presence 24/7, it’s likely that either your marriage or Q course experience won’t work out. This isn’t meant to scare anyone, it’s just reality.

If you’re married, or entering the Q course as an E6 or above, you’ll be compensated Basic Allowance For Housing (BAH) and permitted to live off post. The downside to this is that your commute will play a role in your overall health and wellbeing.

I was a single E-3 when I started the Q, and lived in a barracks room a mere 30 second walk away from early morning first formations. Hypothetically, if I wanted to, in order to be present and in uniform for a typical 0630 formation (to which you show up a minimum of 15 minutes early - so 0615), I could’ve slept till 0600. 

If you’re living off post, you’ll need to consider the commute. Fort Bragg (yes, I will call it fort Bragg forever - if this offends you, you’re in the wrong line of work) is notoriously terrible for commuters, especially for early morning PT formations. You’ll have to account for this by getting up and leaving the house at the appropriate time.

This isn’t an insurmountable task for a future GB, but does present the need for better planning and more mindfulness in regards to sleep habits. At times, you can also expect late nights on which you’ll drive home to catch a few hours of much needed sleep, only to come right back early the next morning. For days like this, living in the barracks is simply more convenient. 

The major upside of living off post, however, is that when you’re not working, you don’t even have to associate with Fort Bragg. Throughout the Q, the ability to “leave work at work” on weekends is a constant struggle, but it’s certainly easier when you’re not living 30 seconds away from your impending Monday morning formation.

In fact, although I lived in the barracks, on weekends I would often be a temporary houseguest at a friends’ off post home. I would routinely drive to his house Friday evening after work and stay till Sunday night, or occasionally even Monday morning. This was a necessary mental break from barracks life and the simple act of being on base. 

My recommendation for those who fit the criteria to live off post is to weigh out the pros and cons of living close to base (e.g. Fayetteville, Spring Lake, Hope Mills) and living a little further from base (e.g. the Southern Pines Area, Sanford, Raeford). Although I’m biased (previously lived in Southern Pines and currently reside in Whispering Pines), I believe these to be the best places to live as a soldier stationed at Bragg. 

Although I lived conveniently in the barracks during the Q, I lived in Southern Pines during OTC, which is far more demanding from a time perspective. Overall, I felt the pros of living there outweighed the cons of the daily commute. The drive time will be a factor, and although it’s nice to live further away in a nice area at times, it’s also bound to be a drag at other times. 

Depending on where you live in the Pines area (Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Whispering Pines, Aberdeen), you’re looking at a 30-50 minute commute, and that’s without traffic. Whether you opt for the shorter commute but worse location (consensus opinion) of greater Fayetteville, or the more favorable location but longer commute of “The Pines” is something you’ll have to weigh out yourself.

My suggestion for the “barracks bros” is to get away when you can. Spending all weekend in your barracks room is an option, and going full “monk mode” for periods of the Q-course may even be a good idea, but doing it for too long may end up driving you insane. Hit the beach in the Wilmington area when you can. Go to Raleigh frequently. Or, if you’re lucky enough to find a friend who lives off post and is willing to take you in each weekend, take advantage. 



You may be wondering why fitness would get its own section in this article, as this should be a no-brainer. However, as you’ll surely learn when going through, for some guys it isn’t. Few things have ever been more bewildering to me than seeing future Green Berets fail fitness tests and assessments during the Q course. But it was sadly more common than one would think. There are generally 4 avatars in the Q-course in regards to fitness:

1-the guy improves upon his pre-selection fitness and constantly gets better

2-the guy who does just enough to finish middle of the pack in most fitness tests

3-the guy who gets into PEDs and tries to get as jacked as possible, usually at the sacrifice of conditioning performance and health

4-the guy who just says “fuck it”

Unless this is your first time seeing any of my content, you can probably guess which avatar I’d strongly suggest striving for. If you guessed 2-4, you’re incorrect. The “I’ve arrived” mentality will write your ticket to a mediocre career (best case). Thinking you’ve arrived and that the hard work is complete not just in the Q course, but at any stage of your career will not only lead to your demise, but when this mentality carries over into real life missions, it can cost lives. Complacency kills. 

Best case scenario, those who choose to get complacent get weeded out during the course, or they never amount to anything as Green Berets. Worst case, their complacent attitude goes undetected and they lack the baseline fitness required to do the job. Being complacent is not something you can just turn on and off, depending on the situation. I strongly believe that if you’re complacent with your physical fitness, you’re likely to be complacent elsewhere.

During my years on an ODA, few things blew my mind more than when a new guy would show up from the Q-course unfit. It was unfathomable to me. Especially as an 18x-ray with no experience, fitness is virtually the only thing you can bring to a team on day 1. Yet I can remember several instances throughout my career where a new guy would show up to the company and barely meet (or sometimes even fail to meet) standards on PT assessments.

I can assure you, if you want to land on a good team when you arrive in Group, you damn well better be as fit as you possibly can. As of now, the Q course is structured perfectly for showing up fit, as it culminates with the easiest, most predictable phase of the entire course; language. You’re in the classroom for 6 total hours per day. You have weekends and long weekends. The rest of the day is yours to either take advantage of and train, or be a lazy, undisciplined phony future Green Beret. The choice is yours.

Throughout the Q, there are periods during which the conditions for maintaining peak physical condition are suboptimal. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You need to make time for your training. You may be required to partake in mandatory PT at certain points throughout the course, but that isn’t enough. From day 1, your focus should be on being the most well rounded tactical athlete you possibly can be. This means being strong, agile, mobile, healthy, and a running and rucking monster. 

Every 12 mile ruck I did in the Q course was faster than the one before. Every time I had an APFT or a 5 mile, my score was higher. I won the UBRR during language that resulted in an award I still have to this day as the Fittest Individual in my Green Beret graduating class. Why? I never felt like I had arrived. I always knew there was more work to be done. I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived, even as a former “cool guy” who’s now a civilian. This should be your mentality. If it’s not, I suggest picking a different profession. I can assure you, no one wants an unfit liability on their ODA.


18X-ray Struggles

It’s no secret that signing an 18x-ray contract is a big risk. Statistically, those who do enter the army as X-rays are unlikely to ultimately don their Beret. Many decide at basic training to switch their contracts. Others don’t make it through SOPC. My roommate in “SOPC hold” (the period before we attended SOPC) quit prior to going. He couldn’t handle the doubt and uncertainty, for which I hold nothing against him - it’s not for everyone. 

Although X-rays at SFAS have a higher chance of getting selected than any other category of candidate, they tend to struggle more throughout the Q than those with prior military experience. Selection is a test of physical fitness, mental fortitude and character. You need to be above average to elite in all 3 of these categories to make it - but SFAS does not assess for tactical proficiency. It also occurs over a short period of time, such that it’s difficult to fully determine the level of maturity an 18x-ray may or may not have in regards to life outside the duty day. 

Plenty of x-rays and non x-rays get releived from the Q course for disciplinary reasons, the details of which I’ll discuss later in this article. But tactical proficiency is another big obstacle for X-rays. Small unit tactics are relatively straightforward and not overly complex. But when you’ve never had to implement them, let alone lead a full squad of hungry, tired, cold (or hot) soldiers in a long foot movement into a raid or ambush, it can present a difficult obstacle to negotiate. 

My best advice is to be a sponge. Ask the extra questions. Do the extra reps. You’ll likely have at least one squadmate in your SUT class with a Ranger tab. At minimum, you’ll have prior service combat arms guys. Hound them for answers. Be curious. Practice. Run things over and over. Learn it, and become confident in your ability to lead. It’s simple, but it’s not easy, especially if you’re the type of person to “hope things go well”. 

You need to develop enough competence to transcend confidence. In my observation, most of the 18X-rays who struggle with SUT are those who don’t accept personal responsibility. They’re too proud to admit that they don’t know what they’re doing. You’ll have the opportunity to learn it and master it. But you need to also have the humility to admit you don’t know, and take the necessary steps to change it.



Throughout most of the phases in the Q course, you’ll get weekends off, to include 4 day weekends. However, my advice is to not count on it. Depending on the phase of training you’re in, there will be times you’ll work through them. That said, I know some people are under the impression that weekends aren’t a thing in the Q course, and this isn’t the case. As an 18D there were many weekends throughout SOCM spent either studying or practicing trauma runs at the school house. 

Other MOS’ also may demand some or much of your time over the weekends. Some phases take place at Camp Mackall, where you can expect to work through weekends and holidays. I vividly remember on the 4th of July, 2013 being out on the airfield at Mackall in the North Carolina heat doing squad movement techniques. Not the perfect way to spend the 4th of July by most accounts, but it’s a sacrifice you’re just going to need to prepare for. 

The only time throughout the year you can expect extended time off is during winter block leave, which, depending on the day of the week, Christmas and New Years fall on can be 2 weeks to nearly 3 weeks. Many Q course students use this time to handle life obligations, like getting married. If you’re expecting to get married in the Q course, this is the time to plan it. It’s essentially the only time you can fully count on being off and able to travel. 

That said, there are plenty of 4 day weekends during which you’ll have the option to go on pass and travel where you want, so long as it’s CONUS. Just be sure to actually submit the paperwork and ensure it's approved, as one foolish way to get dropped is to travel too far from Bragg on a weekend without approved documentation. Overall, my advice is to expect weekends but don’t count on getting all of them, and know what you’ll likely be studying for work the following week, or at least thinking about it. 



The academic component of the Q is something that often goes overlooked. Most people think that so long as they’re not an 18D, the academics aren’t much of an obstacle. Although I can only speak from personal experience on the 18D MOS portions of the course, I can assure you that it’s a mistake to think the other MOS courses are easy. For example, everyone seems to think that the 18B course doesn’t present a threat - not the case. I know a lot of really smart, high performing guys that recycled at least one phase of the 18B course. 

All 4 MOS’ are challenging in their own way, and failure to treat them as such will likely get you “recycled”. A recycle is when you have to restart the same phase and complete it successfully in order to continue through the course - not the end of the world by any means, but still not something to shoot for. Although many individuals will recycle at some point throughout the course, it’s absolutely possible to go straight through. 

Good studying habits, discipline, and the ability to sacrifice short term pleasure (having fun on nights and weekends) for long term success (earning the Green Beret) are traits you must have. You’ll learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses throughout the different phases of the course, as well as within each individual phase.

For example, during SOCM (the 9 month course for 18Ds responsible for making their pipeline so long) I struggled with some of the written tests. I had to study and prepare a lot more than some of my classmates. Most of the geniuses in the Q will be assigned 18D, and I’m by no means a genius. The first ~5 months of SOCOM is primarily classroom training and written test taking.

The final ~4 months is more hands-on, centered around trauma skills and prolonged field care, and culminating with a 1 month long clinical rotation in a hospital. It wasn’t till I reached the hands-on portion that I began hitting my stride. I felt a lot more comfortable showing my skills than I did proving my knowledge on a multiple choice test. Other guys were the exact opposite. 

Everyone will struggle at some point, and it all boils down to just doing what it takes to get through it. Once you find something you’re strong at, you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Language is another possible point of struggle for some students. Although your schedule during language is very predictable and it’s a relatively low stress phase, some end up struggling enough to have to do it twice. I’m confident that 6 months is more than enough time to achieve the required score so long as you put the required work in.

How much work you’ll need to put in will depend heavily on which language you’re assigned, as well as your natural proficiency to learn a language. The easier languages like French and Spanish typically don’t present problems for most (but that doesn’t mean to take them lightly). The more difficult languages like Chinese-mandarin, Farsi, Arabic and Russian usually result in more recycles. Still, based on my experience, most guys get through language just fine. Not to sound like a broken record, but those who struggle in language are coincidentally the ones who think they’ve arrived. Put the work in, and language is totally manageable. 


How To Get Dropped

Although it’s a common Green Beret-ism to believe they attended the “last hard class” or went to the Q course “back when it was hard”, from what I understand, it is more difficult to get dropped from the Q course today than it was in the past. When I went through, you were allowed to recycle 2 times throughout the entire course, regardless of phase. 3 strikes and you were out.

For example, you could recycle 1 of the several phases in SOCM, then recycle SUT. So long as you performed well thereafter, you were good. But if you were to fail to meet the standard in a subsequent phase, you’d be dropped. 

I don’t know this for sure (fact check me if you'd like), but I’ve been told that more recycles are permitted without being dropped in today’s Q course. That being said, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should be ok with it. If you continue to need retraining time after time throughout the course, it should tell you a lot about yourself. It may indicate you have a lot of work to do in order to avoid a serious struggle once you get to group. I’m not saying that failure is always a sign that you’re hopeless. But failing, AND failing to learn from it and course correct is an indicator that you may not be in the right place. 

Injuries are another reality of the Q course. Although not every day is as physically demanding as selection, some days will be. You could adhere to all the advice provided in the physical fitness section above, and still get unlucky. Injuries happen, and many would-have-been great Green Berets succumb to them. Depending on the severity, you may just be put in med hold and allowed to continue once you’re rehabbed. But this isn’t always the case. Many injuries are avoidable. 

An overuse injury or an ego based gym decision are dumb ways to get injured. You have the ability to control these. To my knowledge, static line jumps no longer occur during the course, which is something to take comfort in (some of you may know my stance on static line jumps, but that’s a topic for another day). I jumped at least 8 times throughout the course, and although I was lucky enough to avoid hurting myself on a landing, not everyone was.

One of my teammates was in the Q just behind me (before he became my teammate) and he broke his pelvis on a static line jump. He ended up spending several months rehabbing, and was granted the ability to finish the course, but not everyone is that lucky. 

Although luck is involved in navigating the Q course without injury, I suggest doing everything in your power to avoid an injury that could have been prevented by taking your fitness, nutrition and lifestyle more seriously.

Also, just because you’re allowed several attempts to pass the course doesn’t mean you’re immune from getting dropped. The most common reason for Q course drops has always been incidents outside the workplace, usually involving alcohol. The military in general cracks down hard on alcohol related incidents.

The Q course does as well. The best way to write your ticket out of the course (and potentially even out of the army) is to be involved in one. DUIs, bar fights, domestic abuse, and other poor decisions made under the influence are quite common. I would be the world's biggest hypocrite to say that you should avoid alcohol altogether. Although it would be a fool proof way to avoid such incidents, I personally drank quite heavily throughout the course.

What I will say is to be responsible with it. Hang out with the right crew. Know your limits. Know your buddies' limits. Deescalate potentially problematic situations as soon as you get an inkling that something may happen. Do not get behind a steering wheel if you even suspect you may be anywhere near the legal limit. There’s nothing more unfortunate than throwing away your career because you decided it was a good idea to go have fun one night but couldn’t handle your alcohol.


In Closing

Overall, the Q is a grind. There are times you’ll wonder if it’ll ever end. There will be times you’ll doubt yourself. There will be times you’ll go in early and stay late. You’ll be tired. You’ll have to work hard to maintain your fitness. You’ll have to exercise more discipline than you ever have in your life. It’s one thing to get yourself in shape for the 3 week selection process and succeed. It’s another to continue this for another 1.5-2.5 years.

Your reputation is either being built or tarnished from the first day of selection, all the way till graduation day. Don’t be the guy who everyone knows as a shitbag. I can assure you, when you show up to group, the teams in the company you’re sent to are going to use the “bro network” to look into your background. We have ways of determining whether you’d be an asset or a liability before ever meeting you.

Work hard.

Keep your nose to the grindstone.

Take it one day at a time.

Although you still haven’t arrived even on graduation day, you’ll be able to take pride in the fact that you did what it took to become a Green Beret. Enjoy it.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published