STO Selection–10 burning questions – AF Special Warfare

STO Selection–10 burning questions sat down with a recent graduate of the Special Tactics Officer (STO) Phase I and II selection course.  We had 10 burning questions for him regarding his preparation and keys to success:


1) You recently successfully completed STO Phase I & II selection. For those that may not know, what are these two phases of the STO selection process and what are they designed to do?

Referencing the 24 SOW web page and current STO application:

STO Application FY 2019

Phase I is the initial application submission, designed to assess the likelihood of success of each candidate based on the information provided. A review board consisting of STO’s ranks and identifies candidates selected to be invited to Phase II. “Phase II Selection is conducted at Hurlburt Field, FL. The purpose of Phase II is to assess each candidate in the ST attributes for the purpose of determining if you have the raw skills to operate in the Special Operations environment.”

2) What made you want to pursue STO selection?

I was a CCT for 9 years prior, nothing I’ve seen has compared to the heritage and brotherhood that comes along with the battlefield airmen careers that I’ve been a part of. I wanted an opportunity to lead battlefield airmen, provide top cover to make their lives easier, and do everything I can to make sure everyone crushes the mission and makes it home. All the fun parts of the job that come along with it are a bonus.

3) How did you design your physical training regimen for a selection course that can be so multi-faceted and unpredictable?

Phase II is a week long, so it centered around long training iterations focusing on functional fitness, cals/running/rucking combinations, and getting in the pool for all the water confidence training. I would not recommend focusing on training for your 1 rep max and calling it a day. If you are looking for a structured program, there are numerous programs out there designed for assessment training for all branches of service.

4) Often time, guys refer to battlefield airmen selection course preparation as 90% mental and 10% physical. What is meant by this and do you agree with it?

I agree, you can be the strongest person to ever go through the courses, but you will still be pushed to your limits, and if you can’t handle the stress or adversity, you will not make it. At some point, every individual will be pushed to a breaking point, where quitting will seem like the more desirable option than the pain currently being endured. If you have a good mental foundation, like a challenge, and possess a tough, never-quit attitude, you will do extremely well because you will progress accordingly. The courses are really designed to build you up over the length of the pipelines of each career field. You can see this in the PT tests’ requirements becoming more demanding as one progresses through the respective pipelines.

5) What were some of the physical and mental highlights of your Phase II selection?

Don’t have particular examples, but you will be amazed at some of things you can do when you think you are already pushed to your limits if you have the right mindset.

6) Did you find any portion of the assessment difficult or over-challenging in which you weren’t prepared for? If so, how did you overcome it?

The whole week is taxing from a physical and mental standpoint, just remember why you are doing it. Biggest thing I notice are issues for candidates are failure of initial PT test on poor calisthenic form and pool sessions. Reference STO application for all expectations.

From STO application:
“Candidates must be prepared for a physically and mentally demanding week. You cannot trust your judgment of your physical and mental preparedness prior to coming to Phase II. Feedback from most candidates indicates that this week is more demanding than anything they anticipated. The cadre will push you physically and mentally beyond your comfort zone to assess those critical attributes in adverse situations. You will be expected to perform to the best of your ability in all events.”

7) Approximately how many candidates were in your Phase II selection and how many were actually selected?

Approximately 28 in selection, around 17 made it through the week, 8 selected.

8) What do you believe were some of the key factors or attributes that the Phase II cadre were looking for in candidates that many came to the course not possessing?

My opinion in no particular order: confidence, decisiveness, maturity, selflessness, adaptability.

9) For someone interested in becoming a STO, what would be 3 to 5 key pieces of advice you would give someone desiring to pursue this profession to prepare for selection?

Know why you want to do it. There’s a ton of easier jobs out there if you are just looking to go officer, what makes you want this one?

If selected, you will be looking forward to a long pipeline where you will be leading teams of future battlefield airmen though school after school. Make your physical abilities leave no doubt to the recruiting team that you will crush all aspects of the pipeline so you can focus on the teams you will be in charge of.

Start training for it early. Phase II is approximately 60 days from Phase I, plan your training accordingly.

Keep a positive attitude. Understand that everything you do throughout 1 week of assessment will be evaluated to determine who you are and if you are a good fit. From STO application: “The ST cadre will observe and take notes on everything you do. These observations will be the basis for a hiring recommendation made to the 24th SOW Commander.”

10) Any parting words of wisdom or advice to those considering STO?

It is a servant leader position, you will be leading professionals in special operations careers in missions around the world. The easiest part of the job will be the assessment and the ensuing pipeline, where you are a student. The hard part is when you actually get to an operational unit and the real work begins.


For more information about STO Selection Training, check out the Pipeline Overview page or the STO/CRO/ALO Selection Subforum, all on