Ask Stew: Preparing for Army Service Within the Next Two Years

Initial entry trainees arrive on Fort Benning
Initial entry trainees arrive at Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, on Fort Benning, Georgia, July 13, 2018, for the first day of the 22-week pilot program for One Station Unit Training for Infantry Soldiers. (Patrick A. Albright, Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence/U.S. Army photo)

No one should join the military just because they can. Any recruit should reflect on their reason for signing up and have a good understanding of job selection and timing.

Here's a question from a young man who plans to serve in the Army after he has prepared himself better for the journey.

"Stew, I was supposed to go to college this fall but ended up deferring my enrollment due to COVID. I decided to do a few years of community college online and train harder before I enlist.

I have a few questions about how to best prepare myself for the process of joining the Army and later joining Special Forces. By the way, thank you for your help and your articles/fitness programs. They are extremely helpful!" Albert

Albert, thanks for considering service. You're smart to take some more time to prepare yourself mentally and physically for your future challenges in the Army and selection.

While you are in college, consider studying a foreign language, as you will find that skill useful if you one day wear a Green Beret.

Keep doing your research before you enlist.

Do you research on the process of joining the military

See official Army websites and Army Special Forces pipeline training information. This will keep you busy, as there is a lot to learn about a future profession in the military.

How do you get to that job? What are the pre-testing requirements? What happens after basic combat training? Where will you live?

Take your time during the physical preparation process to learn about getting to and through the training. These are two distinct steps, but more than half of the applicants do not prepare well enough to get through the training.

Know your testing requirements

To get to the training, you have to get through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) screening, pass physical fitness tests and do well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Scoring high on the ASVAB will give you the opportunity to choose from more jobs as you enter the military. Army Special Forces requires even higher scores.

Start your preparation by finding out what works best for you. The challenge is part physical fitness preparation, part mental toughness development and part personal will and discipline.

Your athletic strengths and weaknesses have to be addressed first and foremost, and then a program can be devised.

Assess yourself

Take a few fitness tests that you know will be required for enlistment and special ops qualification. Those results will tell you where to start, and you can focus on your daily progression from there.

Set performance goals

Exceeding the standard is the standard in the special ops world of fitness. You cannot sustain selection-level performance on minimum standards.

Remember this motto: You will never think about quitting when you're thinking about winning. You have to push to score above-average standards on these fitness tests. Train to compete when you are setting your performance goals for this training pipeline.

Get on a program

Find a program that is close to your level of abilities, but realize any program you find may need some personal tweaking. You don't want to overdo it or to waste time with a program that may be too easy for you.

Assessing yourself by taking the Army physical fitness test (PFT) and the new combat fitness test (CFT) will give you a good gauge on where to start. Once you start to build your running distances and speed to the levels required to pass fitness tests, you then will progress into longer runs and add rucking, too.

Keep doing your research

You can then join the military when you have successfully crushed the PT test and started on your journey to get through the training.

Read some books about the career you are looking to have one day. I liked the books "Chosen Soldier" by Dick Couch, "Horse Soldiers" by Doug Stanton and "Masters of Chaos" by Linda Robinson. I recommend them to all of my Army Special Forces candidates who train with us either locally or virtually.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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