Selection was no joke. Not only is it the longest selection the Canadian Forces has, but it’s in the worst climate. The goal of selection? To evaluate candidates on their ability to preform in “less then ideal” conditions under stress, load, cold, tired, messed up situations for extended periods of time… It was nuts!
It all began with an “easy” phase about 4 days long in Edmonton, Alberta. You show up with a ridiculous amount of kit and they issue you a bunch of other kit. The 1st PT test was a 1.5mile run (under 10 min), 31 consecutive push ups, 33 sit ups, 8 pull ups, and a shuttle run and 2 rope climbs. This is all for time and must be done as fast as possible, i swear Dave Castro helped program it! OH, i forgot to mention that after this you have to swim 675m for time. I came in 12 pounds heavy (expecting to loose a bunch of weight in the field) but ran my fastest 1.5mile at 8:39, i was pumped but looking back, had no idea how much work was up ahead. The 2nd PT test was the standard Beep Test, grip strength, max push ups (HA! good luck), max sit ups. Here you also got your last shower, they gave you a lengthy 10min to shower, change and get outside!
We left for Jarvis Lake Monday night at around 11pm. Started with 30 people but were down to 20. The bus ride was silent, instructors said nothing, we just sat there for 3 hours. Eventually the bus stopped, we put our rucks on and were told to follow this road that hasn’t been touched all winter (waist deep snow). After a couple hours of walking we get to the camp, quickly shown around and assigned cabins, we are to report at 0745. It was about 4am so i remember thinking “wicked, 2 hours of sleep”. I don’t even think I got both legs in the sleeping bag when all hell broke loose… This phase lasted all week. It was 12 hours of classes, then a bunch of projects in the afternoon, anywhere from 45min to 90min of sleep per night… carnage. Anytime you thought, “thank god we’re done, another day” you were wrong! There was always something else coming. By Friday afternoon we had been up since essentially Monday morning with constant activity, no walking ever always running, and you had to give 100% all the time if you want to not only pass but also get picked to be a SAR Tech.
Friday night we were told “no-duff, we won’t fuck with you tonight, get some god-dam sleep”. They weren’t lying, SAR Techs don’t lie. This sounds great, and trust me 9 hours of sleep felt amazing, but i knew that meant the next phase was going to be crazy. Saturday morning was the beginning of the appropriately titled “Trek Phase”. The thing with selection is they teach you EVERYTHING you need to know once. After being taught once you are expected to know it and can be evaluated at any time. Fail an evaluation = home time. Keep in mind that you were taught during “motivation” phase with no sleep lol.
Trek phase was pretty nuts… They issue even more kit so your pack is around 90 to 110 pounds, and the name of the game is straight-line navigation. It didn’t matter what obstacles were in front of you, you walk in a straight line. So basically Trek phase was 5 to 7 hours of bush bashing, up and down mountains, in knee deep snow with your pack in a team of 3 or 4. Once you got to your checkpoint you’d have to set up camp. You had to chop down trees, build shelter, acquire enough firewood for the night, took about 4-5 hours after your walk before you can eat dinner and pass out. In the morning, you tore down the camp and did it all again. I was getting solid rest during this part but the Trekking just got worse and worse, wearing you down quickly. This went on for i think 4 days… On the 5th day is your individual navigation evaluation, you have to navigate, break trail, count pacing, all by yourself (which sucks compared to splitting it up between 4 people), and since it ALWAYS pays to win, I took no breaks, I wanted to be first. When you get to your checkpoint you answer a couple questions and move on to the worse kit inspection ever! its -30 outside and you take a part every piece of kit, empty every pocket, and eat every micro-ounce of food you have left. I downed a hot chocolate package, just powder no water. After they ensure you have nothing, you pack up and it is “total isolation” phase (solo phase).
No food, no help, just your gear and knowledge. You’re expected to survive 4 days in Northern Alberta by yourself. Don’t get me wrong, your days are busy, it wasn’t boring, but it was very hard to stay motivated. Everything was tiring and difficult. You had to build your own snowshoes, a fishing net, etc. Eventually one morning you see some orange show up, the first people you’ve seen or talked to in 4 days… My own voice caught me off guard. They evaluate your camp and tell you to pack up, and start walking. This sucked. After no food, that 110 pound pack took forever to get on my back, and then i walked for ever. Each step was a chore, very disoriented, blurry eyes… I eventually got to an instructor who gave me directions down this path. I followed it forever, it was tough but as you came over the highway it was so beautiful to look at, the Rockies, man it was nice. I passed one instructor who calmly said “you’re heading to the finish line…” That felt fucking good.
I got to the edge of the lake where another instructor told me to put on my home-made snowshoes and walk across the lake. I was with 1 buddy but no one else in sight, we had a couple laughs trying to use these ridiculous snowshoes… At the finish line was a final exam on everything you learnt, it was hard to read or focus, but had to be done.
Left the exam, handed in all of my issued kit, scarfed down a ration pack and was led down to the basement. The instructor had a couple words… “there’s 2 ways to go into this next room… you quit or you finish selection…” He opened the door… a sink, a toilet, and a shower… I can’t describe that feeling, I was done. Turned my phone on and was blown away with the support I had received, thank you so much to everyone, it truly means the world to me.
Got the best shower I’ve ever had, changed into civilian clothes, had a nice dinner, and then the final interview. From what I understand, most selections don’t find out who’s chosen until months later, but ours was different. That night before you went to bed you were going to know whether you are becoming a SAR Tech or not… GULP!
I followed the 3 rules during the interview: #1 always look cool, #2 Don’t get lost, #3 If you get lost, look cool… At the end of the interview I was congratulated and told I would be in course 49 alongside some awesome course-mates, another huge step towards my goal.
Selection was an incredible, life-changing, and humbling experience. I learnt an incredible amount of information, as well as learnt some stuff about myself. There’s a lot of work ahead of me, and I have a lot of stuff to work on but I’m going to give it all I got.