The selection process borrows from his experience in Iraq and from some of the same problem-solving and physical tests used to weed out Special Forces candidates. Selection tests a soldier’s ability to maintain composure, apply logic, communicate clearly and solve problems in demanding environments. It’s as much a mental test as it is a physical one.
“The unique perspective of females in military operations, particularly unconventional situations, is an untapped and underappreciated capability within the Army,” McCarthy said. “These teams are important — not only for the Army, but for the success of military operations as a whole.”
That is why McCarthy makes getting on a team difficult. In fact, he calls selection “100 hours of Hell.”
* * *
Sunday morning, the first day of assessments, the candidates got off the bus and quickly changed into shorts and running shoes. The 55 women, a mix of officers and enlisted soldiers and one Air Force major, grunted their way through two minutes of push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Each rep was measured with by-the-book standards. Six candidates got cut right away.
Next, candidates were separated into five teams. They wore digital camouflage uniforms with tape on their arms and legs showing their roster number, so it was impossible to tell who was an officer and who was enlisted. That afternoon, the team members got a first assignment but also spent time getting to know one another and forming a bond that they hoped would help them through.
“It has always shocked me how close a group of soldiers can become in such a short amount of time,” said 2nd Lt. Alex Horton, a Team 2 member. Horton, 23, from Hermosa Beach, Calif., grew up with a hippie mom and a Navy father. She joined the Army after completing her degree in criminal justice at Western Michigan University. She sees the Army as a short-term job.
“After I get out, I’ll join the Peace Corps,” she said. “I want to have both aspects and have that to look back on. A soldier and a hippie.”
She selected the intelligence branch in the hope it would give her a future with the FBI or CIA. With only a few months in the Army, she was already restless. That’s why she was at Camp Mackall.
“I realized that sitting at a computer is not my thing,” she said. “I really didn’t feel like a soldier being an intel officer.”
Team 2 was made up of six officers, including Horton, and four sergeants. Marquez, from Bosque Farms, N.M., wanted to be in the infantry when she walked into the recruiter’s office in 2005. The recruiter pointed out that women can’t join the infantry, so she became a linguist and interrogator.
Marquez was deployed to Khost, Afghanistan, in 2008 for 15 months. That tour should have been her chance to use her interrogation skills, but she felt stifled and bored working with the 101st Airborne Division. “I like very intelligent, driven people,” she said. “And I can’t say that about the people I was working with out there, and because of it, my deployment was kind of tough.”