Mythbusters: Special Forces Edition

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27 May 2022 | OPS & TRAINING

Mythbusters: Special Forces Edition

// Story by Benita Teo

// Photos by PIONEER photographers

English 华文

Are Special Forces troopers all brawn and no brain? Must you look like a bodybuilder to sign up? Really cannot have Facebook account ah?

We bust the myths, they smash the windows: A crack team from the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) storming a high-rise apartment during a hostage rescue drill at Pasir Ris Camp in 2016.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Brian Anthony Thomas, Commanding Officer of the Special Forces Leadership School, busts the myths about the Special Forces, and tells us an extra thing or two about these formidable but elusive soldiers!

LTC Thomas spills the tea on whether these six myths are true.

Myth 1: All Special Forces soldiers are built like The Hulk

LTC Thomas: When you start training with the Special Forces, you'll see a change in your physique. But that's because you will be doing more physically demanding activities and your body will adapt. You don't need to look like The Hulk to become an operator. In fact, we have people of all shapes and sizes who are performing at the required physical levels.

Myth busted? Yes!

Myth 2: The Special Forces are all brawn and no brain.

LTC Thomas: My batch boy is a PhD holder, so definitely a myth! Also, a lot of our training and operations requires us to study and learn – for instance, a lot of calculation is involved when diving or when working with explosives, which is one of our core skills.

Our missions are very demanding and threats are always evolving, so a lot of our energy has to go into analysing the adversaries and changing conditions. So, actually, there's a lot of brain involved!

Myth busted? Yes!

SOTF troopers successfully taking down a "gunman" in the Tampines Mall cinema, as part of a counter-terrorism exercise in 2016.

Myth 3: Special Forces soldiers all have their wills written out already.

LTC Thomas: I haven't been in an active unit in a while, but I would think so. After my experience where we were told to write our wills while being activated for a security situation, the unit commanders began to make it a habit and a process. It's not a morbid thing where we make them write a letter with their final words! But it's to make sure we are accountable to our families, should any situation arise.

Myth busted? No!

Myth 4: Special Forces soldiers are very secretive about their personal lives.

LTC Thomas: This is a tough one. It's a personal choice, and some really have a very small digital footprint. As Special Forces operators, we need to know the boundaries because the cybersecurity risk is very prevalent today. Our operators are all educated on this, so they are very careful about how they participate in social media.

Ops security is something that they hold very tightly, and the onus is on them to not compromise themselves or the unit. Even on a night out, they must be careful about loose talk.

I remember this story of when a trooper got married, and invited all his buddies to the wedding. After the banquet, the force commander activated everyone (sans groom) back to camp for physical activities! It was to drive home the message that in this job, we must always be ready for ops. We cannot afford to lose control.

Myth busted? Sort of.

SOTF troopers storming a "hijacked" vessel in Exercise Highcrest – a maritime security exercise – in 2021.

Myth 5: The Ranger Course is harder than the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC).

LTC Thomas: Hmm… I would say it's a different kind of hard. The SFQC is a very long course, about seven months long. And it runs on a certain rhythm, with different components to it. On the other hand, the Ranger Course is two months-plus of training on a very tight schedule. And the candidates are deliberately deprived of sleep and, in the later phases, deprived of food as well. It's a different kind of hard.

Myth busted? Not really.

Myth 6: Special Forces soldiers all look very fierce.

LTC Thomas: Not true! We have a lot of people who look like your regular guy-next-door, some very unassuming. We all look normal. Maybe because of the training, we look very fit and tanned, and we don't smile very often.

Myth busted? Yes!

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