Which SpecOps is Right for Me?

Which SpecOps is Right for Me?

Every now and then I get a question that requires extra effort to answer. This question required every bit of experience I had to answer. If you are on the fence or how or where to serve your country, please read.

I am debating where to serve? Firefighting EMT, Police SWAT, or Military Special Ops. I know you write about all of them - do you have any advice on what you\'d recommend? I am trying to do a workout that would help prepare me for all of them as I have about a year before I need to make my decision.

Whew - this is a big question, but a great one!  My first opinion is that you cannot go wrong with any of your choices as serving your community in Emergency Services / Law Enforcement or your country in the Military are great professions. So, let's break it up into two major groups with several sub groups in order to see how people can find elements of these service professions that appeal to them.

First - the Community Services you asked about were Fire Fighters, Emergency Medical technician, and Police SWAT teams. Depending on where you live, the opportunities may be better in one state / city than another so these groups may differ from town to town. So generally speaking research into the city/state has to be done to determine the physical fitness entrance standards as well as other requirements and benefits.

Emergency Medicine

To make the decision to serve as a Fire Fighter / EMT you should consider your desire to learn about emergency medicine. You can actually be both a Fire Fighter and an EMT or an EMT only. Both are physically demanding and require academic study, however the Fire Fighter profession is much more so and involves VERY HOT temperatures. Also, there is a type of bravery that not many people have to be able to run into a burning building to save another person.

Dive Teams

Most cities also offer a Public Safety Diver (PSD) program where you will use your skills in the water to rescue or search for people in rivers, lakes, ponds, oceans etc. Many Fire Fighters and Police officers also train as PSD which requires a strong ability in the water / swimming / diving. This is considered a Special Operations team in most cities as you will be diving in usually cold, dark, murky water where you cannot see the hand in front of your face. This requires an ability to be comfortable underwater / in tight enclosed areas.

Police / SWAT

Typically, you have to have at least a few years of experience before trying out and getting accepting into Police Special Weapons and Tactics Teams. Depending on your location (State / City / County) the selection process maybe extremely challenging and very limited acceptance due to space availability on the Team. But these officers are the sharp shooters, rescue specialists, warrant delivery officers when the job gets above and beyond the average officer to handle with safety. First you have to pass a police academy and then become an outstanding police officer in order to later become a SWAT team member. Usually SWAT Team tests are quite challenging. Some require swimming, running and PT with body armor, and expert shooting skills in order to qualify.

Second - Service to your Country - Military Special Operations

By branch of service, here are the differences and requirements for each of them:

Army Special Forces

The Army Green Berets are the ground element of the special ops command, So, if you are smart with an ability to speak foreign languages, like foreign travel into both friendly and hostile countries, as well as be able to learn and teach weapons systems and tactics, this is the job for you. Army Special Forces is on the front line of the War on Terror and a highly capable force. If you like running / rucking in desert, mountain, or jungle environments and have an ability to live in the field for weeks / months at a time while performing highly sensitive operations, this job might be for you. Get prepared by running, PTing, ruck marches, and building your leg and lower back to be strong to endure miles and days of moving. Depending on your job, you can be a combat medic, engineer/explosives, diving, weapons specialist and other combat related skills.

The Army also has a Special Operations Flight program (Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment - SOAR) that are some of the toughest, bravest pilots / crew in the military. With this team on your side, as a ground Special Op team, you grow to love the pilots who can get you out of a hot location or drop a bomb with precision on an larger enemy force. So if you think you may want to become a pilot, this maybe an option for you too.

The 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga., is the Army's premier light infantry force. They work in larger numbers than the Special Forces, and are highly lethal. The Rangers are flexible, highly-trained and rapidly deployable Soldiers with specialized skills, who can be employed against a variety of targets. The regiment's three battalions plan and conduct direct action missions as an element of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Being able to endure long runs and rucks, gain an expertise in land navigation, and have access to a variety of weapon systems and airborne platforms is appealing to many hard charging Army soldiers.

Naval Special Warfare

Navy SEALs require a strong ability to do underwater and maritime operations as well as missions on land in all areas of the world as well. These sailors have a challenging selection process which will require you to have a solid foundation in upperbody strength / endurance, cardio vascular endurance, and the ability to run, ruck march, and swimming for miles. Tactically you need be able to learn skills such as shooting, patrolling, SCUBA diving, explosives. If you are NOT comfortable in the water or being cold - this is not your job. After SEAL training - BUD/S - you will continue to jump school and more advanced training. If this excites you like it did me, it maybe a job for you.

Naval Special Operations - EOD - Explosive Ordinance Disposal

All branches of the military have EOD units that have to travel in harm\'s way and disassemble bombs of all types. In the past 8 years, their profession has grown out of necessity. Navy E    OD also disassemble bombs underwater as their skills as divers are often used with torpedoes, mines, and unexploded ordinance on the bottom of the sea. Having an ability to be calm in high danger situations is definitely a requirement.

SWCC – Special Warfare Combatant Crewman - The Vietnam era Swift Boats are the forefathers of SWCC. The "Brown Water Navy" is now one of the three components of the Naval Special Warfare Command (SEAL Teams, SEAL Delivery vehicle Teams, and Special Boat Units). These high-tech, high-speed boats make up the maritime component of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The training is similar to SEAL training, and being competent in the water, driving boats, and shooting weapons is critical to success in this field.

Air Force PJs

These are combat medics who skills are top notch in emergency medicine as well as combat. The selection process is highly challenging and requires advanced skills in the water, land, air, marksmanship, and navigation. The training pipeline is long but the most challenging is the initial training where there is greater than 50% attrition rate.

Air Force CCT

Combat Control Technician - The CCTs are FAA certified air traffic controllers and responsible for conducting all types of missions behind enemy lines while setting air fields, calling in fire support while working jointly with Army SF, Navy SEALs, etc.  There training is challenging as well as they have to learn the water, land, air skills of other Special operations as well as stressful air traffic control. See AF PJ / CCT job requirements.


RECON still exists!  They have simply rearranged the Force RECON teams into MARSOC and the Battalion RECON missions have been largely unchanged. But in a nutshell, all future RECON students must attend BRC - BASIC RECON COURSE. You can still do this as a new Marine but you must first qualify after Boot camp and School of Infantry (SOI). The link above will describe the standards that a RECON applicant must adhere to before joining the Marine Occupational Specialty 0321 (RECON Marine). RECON Battalions remained as part of the USMC Divisions and continue to perform missions for the deployed USMC commander. BRC is open to Marines and Navy Hospital Corpsman.

MARSOC took both Force RECON Companies, which became the MSOB (Marine Special Operations Battalions).  The West Coast MSOB is located in Camp Pendleton, CA and the East Coast MSOB is in Camp Lejeune, NC See the MARSOC Website.

Can you do both? Yes!

There is an ability to do both community and country special ops service. There are friends of mine who are Reservists in Special Ops (Navy SEAL / Air Force PJ / CCT / and Green Beret) who are also Police SWAT officers or Fire Fighters in their home state. Many have deployed to Iraq / Afghanistan in the past few years and came back to their community professions. Many of these require you to have served first in order to become a Reservist, however the Army National Guard has Special Forces career paths that allow you to go to SFAS / Q course as a Reservists and train /deploy with SF Teams.

Learn More About Special Operations Forces

Regardless, training for ALL of these professions requires time and effort. You should find out what the entrance standards are and strive to surpass the minimum standards to such a degree that the test is actually easy to you. In fact, you should have done the test so many times on your own that you truly feel like it is "just another workout". If you prepare like this for ANY of the jobs, you will be highly successful.

This was a tough question to put my hands around so I tried to answer it as best I could. Basically you should think about where you want to live as many Military bases are in different places all over the world. The one thing I liked about the Navy is most bases were near a beach - growing up in Florida made me a beach bum. But there are many beautiful places the other branches have posts - it all depends how you define "beautiful". But the main thing is what interests you. What do you like to do as a hobby - swim vs hike? cold vs hot? medicine vs explosives?  Figure all that out and narrow down your search.

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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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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