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Special Forces Operator (SOF) 2023**

A SOF (Special Operations Forces) operator is an elite military service member who is part of a unit specially designated or trained to carry out special operations.

What’s so special about SOF, or Special Operations Forces? Let’s find out by taking a quick look at their doctrine and tactics, selection, education, training, teams, resources, and missions.

Understanding Conventional and Unconventional Forces

All military forces are divided into two types: conventional and unconventional.

  • Conventional forces are the vast majority. They think and operate within the box. But this is not a bad thing. It simply means that they use established and proven doctrine in traditional tactics to execute their mission.
  • Unconventional forces are the significant minority. They think and operate outside the box. But make no mistake about it, in order to think outside the box, Special Operations Forces or SOF have to know and master what is inside the box.

Unveiling Special Operations Forces (SOF)

SOF is the blanket term given to the men and women of special operations. Special Operations Forces (SOF)  can be further broken down into many categories and subordinate units. In this article, I am systematically highlighting essential pieces of unclassified information about the most important units within the Special Operations community.

But for the rest of this article, I want to talk about the central piece of the SOF puzzle, the tip of the spear, the individual SOF operator. I am referring to the Special Forces Green Beret, the JSOC operator, the Navy Seal, and the MARSOC Raider.

Types of SOF Operators
Special Forces Green Beret
JSOC Operator
Navy Seal

Selection Process

Although known by different names, for the sake of simplicity, I will collectively refer to them as operators. All SOF operators have to go through some type of selection or weeding out process. The rigors of this first phase of training generally assess a potential SOF operator’s intelligence, physical strength and endurance, teachability, and commitment.

Operator Intelligence

In general, operators have higher than average IQs. Of course, there are a few blockheads who have made it through selection and training. I’ve observed that these operators did not get kicked out of the selection process because they were exceptionally strong and very selfless when working for the good of the group. Rather than calling these guys dummies or blockheads, I lovingly call these guys, quote, “strong Rangers,” even if they aren’t Rangers at all.

In contrast, I’ve noticed that the exceptionally intelligent operators, also called “smart Rangers,” are almost always successful. This is because being elite is more mental than physical. It’s a mindset, a disposition.

Physical Requirements

All operators have to pass minimal physical strength and endurance requirements. Although I use the expression “minimal physical strength and endurance requirements,” there’s nothing minimal about them. I will say that operators are in the top 1% of athletes on Earth.


Every selection process requires demonstrating teachability. Let’s use, for example, land navigation. After a week of training and countless rehearsals, if you can’t demonstrate that you’ve learned day and night land navigation, then there’s absolutely no hope for you to ever learn advanced skills like underwater operations or teaching the military decision making process in a foreign language.


All selection processes test operators to see how committed they are, how far will they go, how far will they push themselves. Operators don’t say things like, “Yeah, maybe I can do it.” They say things like, “Absolutely, I will do it.”

Education and Training

SOF operators have the best education, period. They go to the hardest schools, they learn and they learn and they never stop. They are taught to see the big picture, to expand their minds. Operators are able to see the war, not just the battle. This is a key difference between the operator and an infantryman.

An infantryman is trained to do his job, and he does it well. But an operator is trained to know everyone’s job.

Physical fitness is a lifestyle for operators. You can’t be out of shape and be on a team. Compared to a world which gets fatter and flabbier every year, these men are elite athletes.

Physically strong bodies are better able to support physically strong minds. SOF continues to perfect their craft throughout their entire career. Most SOF units train for at least six months before every deployment. This means that at least half of their career, they’re doing nothing but training hard. 

There’s no such thing as, “Oh yeah, I’m good enough with my rifle.” There’s only, “Let’s wait till sunset and practice this several more times in darkness.”

The Power of Teams

Perhaps the number one reason SOF is so successful is because they are on teams with other SOF operators. There’s no such thing as the weak link. Everyone is smart, physically fit, educated, well trained, and absolutely committed. Furthermore, teams of operators are supported by other SOF teams and top-notch SOF support personnel.

Resources and Equipment

SOF operators get the best equipment. The normal progression is that SOF operators establish technological requirements and then get to test and validate prototypes. Once new equipment is approved and adopted, the conventional forces will eventually acquire it.

A great example of this is during my first week in Afghanistan, a fellow team member and I had to spray paint our OD Green Ranger body armor or RBA, and load-bearing vests. A few months later, we were all wearing releasable systems and plate carriers. A year later, the Infantry was wearing releasable systems. 

Thankfully, body armor technology has come a long way. SOF operators also enjoy and appreciate administrative, logistical, and medical support from the world’s best enablers. This support also includes dedicated SOF air support.

Mission Importance

Operators get the best missions, the most important missions, and the most influential missions, those tactical missions with operational or strategic importance. A 15-man Infantry Squad may get stuck pulling guard duty or perimeter security, while the 12-man Special Forces team uses every resource available in the theater to execute a no-fail mission to kill or capture the number one arms dealer in the country.

Concluding Thoughts

There is a lot we can learn from SOF operators. Are you confident in your field? Have you mastered what is inside the box so that you can also excel using what is outside the box? Are you intelligent, trainable, in world-class shape, and absolutely committed? Do you train and learn like your life depends on it?

Do you work on an exceptional team where everyone is an elite performer? Are you resourced for success, and do you get assigned only the best and most important missions? I hope so.

An executive summary of what makes a SOF operator so special, so unique, and so successful Thanks for reading. 

George N.