MARSEILLES, IL (04/18/2013)(readMedia)-- As 14 exhausted National Guard Soldiers struggled to carry loads weighing hundreds of pounds across hilly, muddy terrain late into the night, a constant stream of voices came at them from the darkness.
"You don't have to be here. If you aren't going to help your team, then just go home. You can accomplish anything, but only if you act as a team."
Failing to perform as a team during this exercise meant setting the loads down and performing grueling exercises in the mud, all while wearing 55-pound rucksacks.
After less than 24 hours, these men were all who remained of the 34 Soldiers and Marines from across the country who participated in a Special Forces Readiness Assessment at the Marseilles Training Center (MTC) April 13 to 14. The event was hosted by the Illinois Army National Guard's Company A, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), based in Chicago.
The assessment, which is held twice a year at MTC, is the first step for servicemembers trying to join the Special Forces (SF). Next is the 24-day Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course, where they vie for the opportunity to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course.
The noncommissioned officer in charge of Company A's Readiness Assessment Team, a master sergeant named Raymond, said the team is looking for candidates who have maturity, personal toughness and the ability to recover from exhausting tasks.
"We go from event to event and they are expected to perform in all of them," he said. "We don't give them any allowances for the fact that the last event was tough. We want scores just like it's the first thing they do, even if it's the end of the day."
Over the course of two days, the candidates are evaluated on the Army Physical Fitness Test, a pull-up test, a rope climb, a ruck march, an undisclosed team event, as well as their performance and motivation during several hours of calisthenics.
Candidates are not told the standards for any event before they perform it and they can be sent home at any time.
Sgt. Matthew Daniel of Decatur, a medic with Company C, 634th Brigade Support Battalion in Springfield, was cut after completing the entire assessment and said the most difficult part for him was not physical.
"The worst part, honestly, is fighting the temptation to just give up," Daniel said. "You see other guys going home, it's getting hard, your pack's getting heavy and you know there are miles more to go. You have to fight that knee jerk response to say 'I don't really need to be here.'"
Daniel said he will be at the next assessment, determined to do better.
"I'll absolutely come back," he said. "It was tough and now I know what to expect. Six months is a long time to get yourself squared away."
The assessment team's officer in charge, a chief warrant officer 2 named Leonard, said the assessment is difficult, but training prior to the event is the key to making it through.
"The 30 hours that they are with us will probably be the 30 hardest hours of their life up to this point for probably 95 percent of these guys," he said. "The guys who are physically fit and who have been training for this usually make it through unscathed and will have a smile on their face at the end of the day."
One Illinois Guardsman who made the final cut, an infantryman named Nicholas, said anyone planning to attend an assessment should focus on the ruck march.
"You definitely need to ruck," he said. "That's going to be the biggest portion and it's definitely the butt kicker. If you can, just start wearing around a rucksack with about 55 pounds to get the feel for it. That's what usually breaks off a lot of the guys."
Leonard said there are many reasons people may want to join the Special Forces despite the long, grueling selection process.
"People in the public look at Special Forces Soldiers as the most elite Soldiers," he said. "Typically when people deploy they see Special Forces Soldiers doing good missions . . . A lot of guys look at this as a challenge. You've got guys who are athletes and who are the best at what they do so they figure this is the next step. They want to be the best so they go to SF."
At the end of the weekend, the Assessment Team selected five Soldiers, including two Illinois Guardsmen, to continue the process of becoming elite Special Forces Soldiers.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. James McDonnough, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ (Left) 1st Lt. Daniel Smith of Independence, Mo., and an infantry officer with the 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Brigade in St. Louis and (right) Sgt. Brett Winkel, a resident of Grand Rapids, Mich. and an infantry Soldier with the 1st Battalion of the 125th Infantry Brigade in Flint, Mich., take part in the ruck march portion of the Special Forces Readiness Assessment at Marseilles Training Center April 13. Thirty-four Soldiers and Marines attended the two-day event for the opportunity to qualify for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. James McDonnough, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Sgt. Alex Hitchcock of Chicago and an infantry Soldier with the 2nd Squadron of the 152nd Cavalry Battalion, 219th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade in Seymour, Ind., takes part in the ruck march portion of the Special Forces Readiness Assessment at Marseilles Training Center April 13. The two-day assessment consists of several demanding physical and mental tasks and is the first step in the process of becoming a member of the Special Forces.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. James McDonnough, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Sgt. Matthew Daniel of Decatur, a medic with Company C, 634th Brigade Support Battalion in Springfield, navigates monkey bars during the Special Forces Readiness Assessment at Marseilles Training Center April 14. Thirty-four Soldiers and Marines attended the two-day event for the opportunity to qualify for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. James McDonnough, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Candidates at the Special Forces Readiness Assessment at Marseilles Training Center complete the rope-climbing event April 13. The two-day assessment consists of several demanding physical and mental tasks and is the first step in the process of becoming a member of the Special Forces.