Hello again in the Sandboxx. Many of you who are reading these pages will get the urge, (if you haven’t already) to attempt Selection and enter into the Special Operations community.
Trust me, regardless of the unit or service, if you are a self-starter, are intrinsically motivated, or just someone who feels he/she has to push yourself to the nth degree, there is absolutely no better place to be.
I read something once that has always stuck with me and I’ll share that with you, however, I didn’t write this, so don’t attribute it to me, but I wish I had:
“A normal man looks upon everything that happens in his life as a blessing or a curse. The warrior looks upon everything in his life as a challenge.”
If this sounds remotely like yourself, then a career in the Special Operations community may be perfect for you.
So it is a good time to talk about the care of your feet and the proper boot fit and get it right long before you ever begin the Selection process. This may sound like a total no-brainer, but I will tell you; I was a cadre member in the Selection Course at SFAS for the Green Berets at Camp Mackall, NC and the biggest thing that caused a candidate to fail to be selected always began with foot problems. And those all sprang from issues with their boots and socks…as well as substandard foot maintenance.
I have said many times, too many to count both as a cadre member and afterward that your feet along with your brain are the two most indispensable parts of your body in Special Operations. Your feet are your lifeline in Special Operations. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you. Again, this sounds so simple. But it is often the most overlooked part of a candidate’s preparation. Having spent many years in the Special Forces Regiment, care for your feet quickly became second nature and a very necessary function. For you, it will as well, but first…
We’ll start with the basics and touch upon the highlights
Proper fitting boots
It is very doubtful that while a candidate in Selection that you’ll be allowed to wear any of the high-speed boots. So you’re going in with only what the military issued you. I know, everyone wants to wear those high-speed operator boots from Salomon, Merrell, etc… but you will have to wait until you actually become a member of the unit.
The key for having proper fitting boots is to ensure that the boot’s heel sits tightly to the rear of the foot while giving the toes some wiggle room up front. You can’t have your foot sliding around too much, either front to back or side to side. If that occurs, you’ll have friction, which leads to blisters. If your boots are too tight, your toes will be curled up inside and that is a blister waiting to happen.
I know some people recommend buying boots a half-size too large because your feet will swell on a long-range ruck march. I wouldn’t recommend that but if your feet swell that much it may be necessary. But for the vast majority of us out there, I would discourage you from doing so.
You must have at least two pairs of boots ready for your Selection class and break both in like you would a baseball glove. Walk everywhere in them until they feel like an extension of your leg. It is a good idea to get boots that have good ventilation and water drainage as they’ll allow your feet to breathe and dry out when wet which will cut down on blisters. If your unit allows you to have three pairs at Selection, take them. But in your Selection prep work prior to attending, I’d have three ready to go.
Having a second pair of broken-in boots is essential. Without that, you are setting yourself up for failure. One of the things I used to look at when we’d see our Selection students for the first time was their second pair of boots. If they were well broken in and identical to the pair they had on, that was a good sign. If they seemed barely worn and almost new-looking, then I knew that that particular candidate was going to have a heckuva time.
Rest assured, that while a candidate, you WILL get your feet wet at times during Selection. Like Soldiers have always done, during the day’s events, you drive on with the mission and do the best you can.
However, once the day’s training is complete you have to allow the boots to dry out properly and stuff them with paper towels or newspapers or whatever you have at your disposal. But regardless of whether they get wet or not, you should be changing your boots out every day. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Having to use a new pair of non-broken-in boots in Selection is a surefire way to have a long face at the end.
Prepping and caring for your feet
As I mentioned above, while a cadre member at SFAS I’ve seen all kinds of different foot preparation and care. One of my fellow cadre members and I used to walk around the candidates’ barracks incognito (dressed like they were) at night to see how they were caring for themselves and their teammates. (Teaching point #1 and please take note: You’re always being evaluated).
Special Operations is looking for leaders, so while at Selection you’re being graded as an individual, we’re also looking for good team members and that includes troops who look for and help one another.
Here is where preparation well beforehand comes into view. You have to know your own body. I can tell you what worked for me and my classmates, but that may not work for you. Everyone is different, that’s why during your prep prior to attending your class, you should have all of this down. And it is like anything else, to get good at it requires practice, practice, and more practice.
You should have a good set of nail clippers with you and ensure that you take good care of those as needed. Nuff said. If your feet look like you’re trying to grow talons, then be prepared for foot issues.
I’ve seen candidates spray their feet or use a roll-on antiperspirant which is supposed to stop the sweating which is a major cause of blisters. Others opted to use Vaseline or some type of oil or cream to reduce friction. I was never a big believer in this, if your feet sweat profusely as mine do, then by all means, find out what works during prep phase.
I used just a small amount of Gold Bond powder on your feet and in your socks before going on a ruck march or a long day’s worth of training. Not too much, like anything else, too much of a good thing will bite you in the butt. But it does cut down on friction which creates blisters. Speaking of “butts” I’d recommend putting some around your crotch and behind as well. If you get rubbed raw “down south” it will be pretty difficult to walk for miles that way.
Proper socks fit
Your socks are your feet’s last line of defense. Just as proper fitting socks will protect them from blisters, poorly fitted ones will cause big-time issues
So, we know that heat, friction, and moisture causes blisters. Start with a good pair of tightly fit synthetic or polypro socks that will wick the moisture away from your feet. Rub your feet down with a light coat of powder (see above) and then turn them inside out. Why do you do that, you ask? That is a very good question. Because the stitching inside will rub your toes and create hot spots. That stitching can and will cause blisters. Look inside of your socks and you’ll see the stitching that I’m talking about.
The thick military-issued wool socks go over the inner layer of socks and once again inside out to prevent the stitching from rubbing and creating hot spots. The second sock reduces the friction and will absorb the moisture from the inner sock while cushioning your foot inside the boot. The two-sock system is used so that the friction will occur between the layers of socks rather than between the socks and your feet.
When you begin your prep work for Selection, start slowly, especially if rucking is not something you’ve done a lot of prior. Then gradually increase your speed and distance. As you get more comfortable rucking, those things will get better and better, but just like shooting or any other perishable skill, requires practice.
If you notice hot spots or blisters forming during prep work, stop right away and deal with those. Waiting until completion may result in a much more serious blister which will set your training prep work back. Once your feet become accustomed to this new line of training, your prep work can really ramp up.
All of this may seem like common sense, and it is. But once you get there, common sense will be an uncommon virtue at times. Make all of these small ways to prepare second nature and you’ll be in good shape.
Don’t be late. don’t be light, and don’t be in the wrong uniform…
Who’s ready to go rucking?
Read more from Sandboxx News:
- 8 Green Berets on what it means to be Army Special Forces
- How one unusual vehicle helped create America’s Special Forces
- Women passing Special Forces Selection? Yes, you can
- Military fitness vlogger goes on a charity ruck march
- How to deal with shin splints like a Green Beret
This article was originally published 11/22/2020
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua