Alternate text for image
Photo Credit: Brendan Hunter

I’m generally interested  in people who have crazy jobs, and the job description for U.S. Special Forces soldiers is pretty ballsy. I have a college friend who tried out for a branch of the Special Forces, an endeavor that I learned about when the Army called me as part of his background check. I valiantly resisted the urge  to say things like, “I don’t know who Marx and Lenin are, but they must be great friends of his, the way he talks about them.” 

As I recall, my friend flunked out of the program when it transpired that he couldn’t hold his breath for five minutes. I don’t think the test involved mere lung capacity—you had to hold your breath for five minutes, then jump out of the pool and beat the crap out of a ninja. I might be exaggerating. But not by much.

Until recently, that tangential experience was the sum of my knowledge of the Special Forces. But I’ve just returned from a visit to a Green Beret training compound with a fresh appreciation of my uselessness to America. As you may know, Green Berets are characterized by a high level of specialized training, extreme physical endurance and a lingering resentment that, in 2001, the Army decided to give everyone berets.

First, we’re ushered into what looks like a large garage, where we watch a recruitment video called Trained for Victory. It looks like a trailer for a Michael Bay movie, and makes me want to carry a walkie-talkie and give hand signals while looking through night-vision binoculars. If I could do all that without anyone shooting at me, I might join the Army. But I looked at the website, and I can’t seem to find a “nobody shoots at you” program.

We then head over to a house that’s a precise replica of the type of place a Special Forces team would have to storm in Afghanistan. The architecture is what you might call “mud-hut chic,” designed to mimic a place that would be owned by a successful, malevolent Afghan financier—the kind of guy who could afford a house that includes a secret bomb-making room. After my exposure to this episode of House Hunters: Kabul, let me just say that we should all be very glad that we’re not successful Afghan financiers. Because the place is a dump.

Sure, there’s a hookah lounge that looks kind of chill, but there are also pigs and chickens living in the next room. The chickens are fake, but our Army chaperone informs us that they usually have a live pig in the house. “It’s been raining lately, though, and the roof leaks, so we took him out of here,” he says. “Maybe we should’ve left him, though, because then it would smell more realistic.” I imagine the pig waiting in his dressing room, asking, “OK, what’s my motivation?”

Our Green Beret guide ushers us into the bathroom and gestures toward the toilet, which is one of those Eastern models that’s basically a ceramic hole in the floor. “Where does nobody want to search?” he asks. “Under the toilet.” He then pulls back the rug, lifts up the toilet and reveals a trap door leading to a huge basement. “See, they know we don’t want to search there, so they’re hiding things under outhouses and places like that. This sort of place is where we found Saddam Hussein.”

After this most bizarre open-house tour ever—I’m sorry, I don’t think we’re going to put in an offer—we step into an adjacent building that houses the video firing range. In simple terms, this experience is like a first-person video game, with the screen projected on a foam wall in front of you. But instead of an Xbox controller, you use real guns, one of which is presently handed to me. It turns out that the Army is way more confident of my weapons-handling ability than I am.

“You ever shoot a Glock?” asks a cheerful Green Beret. I act like I have to think about it—man, I’ve shot so many guns, maybe some of them were Glocks? But let’s have a quick refresher just in case. He shows me how the safety works, and a moment later I’m unloading 9mm slugs into a target scrolling across the wall. When I’ve hit it 10 times, the screen changes to buttons reading “next” and “reset.” To click on the buttons, you shoot them. That’s right: these guys use live ammo to navigate computer menus. Facebook update: Blam blam blam blam blam!

You might wonder what the Special Forces are going to do once the war in Afghanistan winds down in 2014. To answer that question, I’ll just say that Afghanistan isn’t the only country featured in the Army’s Epcot Center of hellholes. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’d keep my nose clean, Canada.