AAR - One Year In The Army For An X-Ray
I'm writing this post at the request of @TLDR20 to hopefully help future 18X candidates prepare themselves for the road ahead as they prepare to enlist and eventually enter the beast that is SWCS. I started the enlistment process in November 2014 as a 265 lbs redshirt senior defensive lineman that could barely run a 10 minute mile, finally enlisting in March 2015 and shipping late July 2015.
To say I had a long way to go is an understatement. Luckily, thanks to sites like this one I was able to make contact with men who had been there and done that and was put on the track to success. First and foremost, let's put this out there: Selection, the Q Course, SOPC... it's all a cardio game. If you are like I was - fat and slow, you need to work on that, and the only way to work on that is to ruck and run. By March I was down to around 225 lbs, but my PT was still awful. I did a PT test with my college's ROTC program at that time and scored 59 pushups, 49 situps, and a 15:33 2 mile, and I sure couldn't do 6 pullups.
After this PT test I was able to speak with one of the cadre who was a 1st Group 18E and he gave me a list of workouts and really hammered into me the importance of being a team player and PT. These workouts he gave me were a plethora of Military Athlete and Stew Smith workouts to prepare myself for OSUT and the Q. I still have these workouts if anybody wants them, so just PM me (TLDR20 has my contact info) if you would like to look at them. As a former college football player, I had NO idea how to workout for a SOF pipeline and these workouts really gave me a solid baseline to improve my physical conditioning with. I'd highly recommend them to anyone who is lost on how to workout for this pipeline.
I shipped to Fort Benning and spent 11 days in a boredom hell at 30th AG. At this time I met a lot of other 18Xs that would be in my OSUT company (we had over 120 X-rays in my company). We snuck in workouts in the bays at night and ran a 1 mile run the last day before we went "down range" to OSUT (I only ran a 6:45 and was smoked). Most of my friends were complete studs and I figured I would just have to be the guy who tried hard and was a team player to make it because I was always going to be way behind on PT.
OSUT is very, very easy. The Drill Sergeants' hands are tied and they can't do anything to you besides 10 reps of exercise and yell and break things. It's a new army, and while I don't have hands on experience of how it was before, I can confirm that PT and discipline is pretty lacking on Sand Hill. Thus, the PT is a joke. Luckily, most of my company was 18Xs whom are usually older and more mature, with most of us having college degrees, so a lot of the immaturity was cut down significantly.
So, if you want to prepare yourself for the journey ahead, you better do PT on your own at night. On APFT 1 I only scored 60 pushups, 55 situps, and a 14:32 run. After this, I did a lot of 20 minute AMRAPs (as many rounds as possible) every night of things like 15 pushups, 15 situps, 5 burpees, etc. I also made sure to make friends with motivated people who were in better shape than me to learn from them and push myself. By the end of OSUT I dropped down to about 200 lbs (lack of food mostly) and was at 71-75-13:15 on my PT test. Most of this progress was due to working out with the guys in the bays at night. Make sure you're doing some good jailhouse PT and making the right friends! The guys who hung out with the "shit bags" tended to go away throughout the course, so make smart choices in who you associate with and give your all in everything you do.
After OSUT I went to Airborne Hold for about two weeks just sitting around and doing details during the day. If you end up in Hold, don't be that guy who never volunteers for a detail, as a lot of the guys you're in Hold with are the same guys you'll go to Selection with, and nobody wants to get 19 day'd because they were an ass 3 months ago and pissed off the wrong guy and got peered during team week. Plus, life gets boring at Airborne Hold so the details help break the monotony of watching the same movies over and over and burning cell phone data. Also, you'll get released most days around 1500 and you're allowed to workout and go to the gym, so if you're not taking advantage of this freedom you're really just screwing yourself. Trust me, you'll want to be in the best shape of your life before you arrive at SWCS for SOPC Hold.
Next came Airborne School. Airborne is a super easy course and for the first two weeks you have the great fortune of having Audie Murphy Gym (an AWESOME crossfit-style gym) and Smith Gym within walking distance, along with a 1 mile track around the 250 foot towers. Make sure you take advantage during these two weeks and slay your body because you won't have any time in jump week for anything besides sitting in the harness shed, jumping, and sleeping.
Now, this is the next part I'll address: Jump Week. I am terrified of heights. Well and truly terrified. Even after Airborne I still get the butterflies and fart incessantly every time I'm in line for a roller coaster. Just don't be the guy who freezes in the plane. Everybody else is doing it and surviving to live another day. Just do what you were taught and jump. It's easy. I may have been scared, but I sure as shit wasn't going to dishonor myself and my family and be the guy who quit in the plane in front of all of my friends! F*ck that. If you're afraid of heights like I am, don't even worry about it. You WILL jump.
Fort Bragg Reception
I graduated Airborne and took the bus ride up to Bragg in early December. By surrounding myself with the right people and working hard I was 195 lbs and in the best shape of my life, running a 34:27 5 mile in the second week of Airborne School. I don't say this to brag, as I am far from a stud, but rather to motivate you that no matter what your current physical condition is, you can ALWAYS improve with some time and discipline to get where you want to be!
Next came reception at Bragg. Things may have changed since as I hear now X-rays report straight to SWCS, but when I went through we stayed at the Reception Barracks and had two tired E7 Green Berets herd us through processing into post. This week was super easy and I had tons of free time each day. The hardest part was the shit bags that made our cadre's lives hell. We did a PT test, which they are super strict on and the situps are done on a decline. A ton of guys failed, including guys who were getting inflated "300s" in OSUT. The average score was in the 240s and I actually had one of the better ones at 278 (situps killed me). After this week of leisure, however, the fun was just about to begin...
Student Company/SOPC Hold
After inprocessing and the PT test we were sent down the street to report to SWCS and Student Company. This is where probably 90% of the attrition will be for X-rays. SOPC Hold is hell, and the only way to make it better for yourself is to either quit (which most end up doing) or go into it in the best shape possible so that you aren't one of the guys at the back of the pack being singled out by the cadre. The cadre in SOPC Hold are all senior E7s that while they may be former X-rays themselves, really don't appreciate 20 year old kids showing up thinking they're just going to waltz into a long tab and green beret.
My first full day in SOPC Hold was the day before Christmas Block Leave. We started the day with 115. We ended the day with 95. I'm not sure how in depth I can really get about the stuff that occurs in Hold, but I can tell you the quitting/injury rate is insane, and there is indeed a place called "The Pit." After your time in Hold is up you will never want to hear the words "across the street" ever again. It sucks, plain and simple. Despite what your recruiter told you, SF doesn't want nor need you, so you have to earn your slot each and every day or else it will be you last as an X-Ray. Don't draw attention to yourself, put out, and don't EVER be in the back 50% or let the cadre beat you on a ruck or run.
SOPC Hold is where the value of having a good group of dudes that you call friends around will pay off. While all of the shitbags from OSUT and Airborne are VWing all around you, you and your boys who were born for this shit will feel a crazy sense of camaraderie that will carry you through. You help your boys and they help you and you get through each day, one day at a time. Seeing each shitbag quit also motivates you in kind of a sick sadistic way, as seeing their failure just assures you that you are that much stronger than them and you are headed to the right place. My airborne class graduated 115 X-Rays. Of this number, only about 35 ever even made it to SOPC. I was fortunate and was only in SOPC Hold for two weeks while many of my friends spent 5 VERY painful weeks there (benefits of open slots in the SOPC class ahead, a high PT score, and a name near the beginning of the alphabet). My best advice is to show up in shape, never quit, help your buddies, and don't spotlight yourself.
After Hold came SOPC, or what they call now SFPC (Special Forces Preparation and Conditioning). SOPC was an amazing course and the first time we met cadre who actually seemed to care about us and respected the fact that most of us were there for the right reasons after not quitting in SOPC Hold (it's no secret to the cadre at SWCS what occurs in Hold).
SOPC is 3 weeks and split up into two weeks of conditioning, and one week of land nav practicals. We would usually do either a hard run or ruck in the morning, followed by classes on things such as nutrition/land nav/etc. until lunch, and then a hard afternoon crossfit-style WOD like a Murph. The cadre at SOPC are physical beasts and crush PT. Take advantage of this time to get better, and don't forget to do recovery stretching and get plenty of sleep and food. Your legs will take a beating in SOPC. My class started with 80-something dudes, and while we only had 7 VWs, we had a ton of med drops that resulted in our class only graduating 66 guys.
Also, SOPC used to be a really chill course, but there's a new cadre sergeant as NCOIC who is ratcheting up the pain and now they have things like locker inspections and more smokings and stuff. You may not appreciate it, but grow up - you know what you signed up for. The NCOIC there now is actually an AWESOME guy, and while he will make you pay for mistakes and you may hate him at the time, he's doing it for a reason. He is a former X-ray himself and he just wants to see selection rates go up to where they once were for X-Rays (over 90%, currently closer to 50%). Attention to detail is key in avoiding pain, as this attention to detail is also what will make or break you at Selection. Again, work hard, be a team player, don't spotlight yourself, and stay motivated. The last week is land nav practical exercises which are great for getting your confidence up going into SFAS, and then you finish the course with a 12 mile road march. SOPC is an amazing course, and if you get to this point, don't waste the opportunity!
Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for... Selection! To be honest, when I think of Selection I mostly think about Team Week. Gate Week is pretty easy if you're in good shape and don't say you like burning animals on the psych eval. The hardest part is that you can't sleep until the cadre tell you to, and if they catch you sleeping you will get a spot report which could have a negative outcome for you at the end when they make selection decisions.
I was the February class, so land nav kind of sucked for us because we spent a week out in the woods sleeping on the ground in the middle of a "Polar Vortex" of rain, sleet, and snow. Get used to being cold if you're going around that same time period. On the plus side, there's next to no foliage, which makes land nav MUCH easier and faster. And of course, snakes hate the cold which is fine by me. My biggest advice on land nav is just don't use the roads. Seriously. The roads are lava. Don't do it. We lost 30 guys to road kills in my class, including a good number of my friends.
If your point is in the middle of a fork of two huge fingers of a creek, and besides taking a two mile detour your only option is to either bust it, or walk that nifty little road right to the point - stop and think. The cadre put that point there for a reason. They know there's a road that goes right to it, and they know that draw is Jurassic Park, and they also know you don't have time to take a 2 mile detour around it. If you were cadre looking to road kill somebody, where would you sit? That's right, in the draw off to the side of the road waiting to catch candidates running the road to avoid going through 800 meters of jungle. I came out of the first day of the STAR completely torn to shreds from one point in particular, but I got my 4 points. It sucked. That's the point. They're testing your character. Seriously. Don't walk the roads. Also, Scuba Road really isn't that bad. I did it four times in one hour in February and lived to tell the tale (dropped my waffle top in the drink and went searching).
You'll do so many land nav PEs for 4-5 days, twice a day leading up to the STAR. There's no reason you can't find 4 out of 8 points and secure your spot in Team Week. Just do what you were taught, don't use the roads, and the rest is gravy. There's honestly so much terrain to use out at Hoffman that a lot of guys only use their compasses for cardinal directions. Land nav is long and tiring, but it's not hard.
Team Week, however, is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. Downed Pilot was the worst thing I've ever had to do, and the only way through those four days are to work as a team and just put one foot in front of the other. Be the first guy to lend a hand, the last guy to take a rest, and encourage/motivate your teammates. Give your input when you need to, but also don't be that obnoxious guy that thinks he knows everything. I got through Team Week by just being a bull and picking up the heaviest thing and trying my best to motivate the guys around me. Other guys were brainiacs. Others were knot-tying gurus. Find your role on each of your two teams you'll have in Team Week, and do it quickly. Next, just be a team player and don't quit and PUT OUT. People know who the guy(s) is/are that isn't/aren't putting out, and that guy never gets selected after peer reviews.
Also, Team Week is designed to suck. Sometimes you have a telephone pole and some lashings and there's really no easy way to "out-think" the event. The event is designed to suck and has no easy way out. Just muscle that thing forward and suck it up. It's supposed to be a gut check. At the end of Team Week you'll do LRM/The Trek, which is a 20-30 mile forced road march. It really sucks and your feet will most likely be numb/in pain for weeks after, but it's the last thing and then you're done with the hard part of Selection.
One more thing - ignore the mind games cadre will play on you. They'll say and do things and write you up for a spot report, or pretend to and squiggle in their notebooks. All of this is to see how you react and if you'll quit. Have a good attitude, be strong, and don't quit. I got two spot reports in team week (got caught running back for my weapon and my entire team slept through a formation). It sucks and you'll feel like you just screwed yourself and you're not going to get selected. It will make some people quit. My mindset was I'd rather die than look my father in the eye and tell him I'm a quitter. At the end of the day, pretty much everybody has a spot report or two so don't psych yourself out into quitting. Quitting is never the answer. Ever.
After the Trek, the cadre will let you sleep and the 19 day non-selects will be announced. The following day you'll do the DLAB, and the day after that is when they'll do the 21 day non-selects and you'll receive all of your briefs from every SGM in SWCS welcoming you to the Q Course.
There's not much to say about this. If you're an X-Ray, you'll sit around for about 6 weeks going to two formations a day and getting released to do whatever. You best be working out each day and not getting fat and out of shape. This is the easiest time you'll ever have in the Army as the cadre back at SWCS won't mess with you if you just got back from Selection unless you screw up. Your days of pain in Hold are over.
BLC is your E5 requirement and is an extremely well run course with awesome cadre out at Camp MacKall. It's set up similar to SOPC with hard PT twice a day, with the morning usually being a ruck or run with your hut's cadre sergeant. Soak up the knowledge from your hut leader as it will set you up for success. The biggest thing here is to keep working on your PT, pass the exams (easy), and study your TACSOP/Ranger Handbook as SUT is HUGE for the FTX and your final class ranking. If I could do it again I would have studied that TACSOP waaaaay more.
The first two weeks are classroom and PT events such as the PT test, 5 mile run, 12 mile ruck, the personel recovery event, and some SOCEP events (SOCEP are performance psych people that work with ARSOF). The last week is FTX prep/SUT stuff, followed by the 36 hour FTX, which is AWESOME training. You will move out on foot to do missions around Camp MacKall as a hut and leadership switches every hour or two. Be a team player and help out with stuff like the 240, and do NOT ND (obvious, I know). We lost a few guys to NDs that had to come back in the next class. Also, make sure you know how to operate the 240 with blanks as that thing is a malfunction machine. If you do POPS wrong and it NDs on you, you could be toast. Mostly, do the right thing, be a team player, and know your job. This FTX is a great refresher before you hit IUW/SUT if you're a B/C/E.
This is where I am now. I spent another 5 weeks after BLC in Hold down at the JSOMTC (the medic training center) doing random details before I started SOCM in June. EMT is done down at the Kitty Hawk EMT building over on Pope Airfield. The cadre there are for the most part former SF medics, with a couple SEALs and CA folks. The information comes at you fast and furious, with a lot of guys failing the first exam. I got an 83 on the first exam. The material in EMT isn't that hard, but the exam questions are. There's something called "G2" which will be your best friend, and after EMT 1 my exam scores have all been in the 90s. Make sure you study and practice your PMSTs (practical exercises like splinting, back boards, trauma patient assessment, etc.). EMT is honestly not that hard, but it is loooooong days and a lot of info with 2-3 exams a week. Prepare for this and do your best! I've honestly learned so much about medicine in only one month of training. It's insane. The classes for the most part are actually very interesting and the cadre give you plenty of breaks, so just work hard and prepare yourself for the onslaught that is A&P. This upcoming week is the final and NREMT-B exam, and then I'll be done and moving on to A&P.
I hope this thread will be of help to any aspiring 18X guys out there. I know I was looking for info like this when I was in the enlistment process, from a guy currently in the course, and I hope it has been helpful. If you have any questions for me I'll try my best to respond either here or by email/PM. Best of luck, and remember to work hard, never quit, don't spotlight yourself, and be a team player!