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1.0     Introduction

Canadian Special Operations RegimentThis article provides an overview of the recruitment, selection and training process for the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR).

These Commandos form the (US Army) Ranger-style element of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM or CSOFC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, a “fourth service” (Horn, 2012, p.48) of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

The CSOR can trace its roots to the Second World War in the form of the First Special Service Force, a Canadian-American unit that earned the moniker the ‘Black Devils’ for daring night raids on German forces at the Anzio beachhead. The CSOR carries the Black Devils’ battle honours.

The CSOR combines mobility and firepower with a host of special operations skills required to conduct and enable CANSOFCOM operations at home and abroad. CSOR Operators apply for service from the CAF Regular and Reserve forces, and undergo a rigorous selection process designed to assess a number of critical attributes that have been linked to task performance on the job. Extremely high levels of physical fitness and personal motivation are crucial for the successful completion of the CSOR Assessment Centre, a phase of selection that many fail.

Personnel can join the CSOR as either a:

  • Category (CAT) 1 Special Forces Operator: Consists of Operators and Specialists who are directly employed in the tactical aspects of special operations and high value tasks; or
  • Category (CAT) 2 Special Operations Supporter: Consists of Support personnel selected from Regular and Reserve Forces Military Occupations (MOCs) to fulfil CSOR requirements in staff officer and Support positions.

The mission of the CSOR is to provide high readiness SOF capable of force generating for, and conducting, integrated special operations task forces (SOTFs) to execute operations on behalf of the Government of Canada (Horn, 2012). Other roles include:

  • Responsible for conducting Direct Action;
  • Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO); and
  • Defence, Diplomacy and Military Assistance (DDMA).

The CSOR has between 700 and 800 personnel, with an average age of 30 (Pugliese, 2014).

It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the CSOR’s training process if they are to stand any chance of success. The training requires far greater expenditure of physical energy than is normally required in other peace time training. It is essential that candidates arrive fully fit, carrying no injuries and with a sound grasp of basic navigational techniques.

1.1     Aim

The aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.

1.2     Women and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment

Dr Lara Herbert, then a Royal Navy Lieutenant, is the second woman to complete the All Arms Commando Course, and the first to complete in one go.

Applications for special operations is open to both men and women, “no military occupation is off-limits to women. Submarines were the last all-male bastion and that restriction was dropped in 2001. Combat is open to both genders.” (Campion-Smith, 2016).

“Although no women have qualified as Special Operations Assaulters, one woman (out five) who completed the assessment and selection process but was not selected, later qualified as a Category B, Special Operations Support Personnel, specifically as a coxswain.” (Knarr et al., 2014, p.84).

“In 2006 the first enlisted female completed assessment, selection and qualification course and became a badged operator [within the Canadian Special Operations Regiment].” (Knarr et al., 2014, p.84).

1.3     Brief History

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) was established on 01 February 2006, although officially ‘stood-up’ on 13 August 2006 (Day, 2006). The CSOR is headquartered at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ottawa (Ontario), and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

When first established it was reported that the CSOR would “fill a role much like the U.S. Army Rangers … [and] … have 762 troops.” (Jean, 2006).

1.4     Tier 1 or Tier 2 Status

Although considered a “sister unit” (Day, 2013, p.47) to the Tier 1 SOF unit Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2), the CSOR is considered an enabler unit and consequently deemed a Tier 2 SOF unit (Horn, 2012).

JTF 2 is sometimes referred to as a ‘Tier 1’ unit because it is usually tasked with a direct action role. Other SOF units are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units because they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.

1.5     General Duties of Special Operations Forces

Canadian Special Forces (1)SOF personnel are required to infiltrate and exfiltrate to and from operational areas dismounted, carrying heavy loads and manipulating personal and support weapons systems and other heavy equipment. SOF personnel perform insertions and assaults on targets by:

  • Parachuting onto ground or into water;
  • Climbing ladders and cliffs;
  • Rappelling;
  • Conducting close-quarters battle (CQB); and
  • Battle drills in varying types of terrain and climatic conditions day or night.

SOF personnel are also required to board ocean vessels while they are underway from another floating or airborne platform in all sea states day or night, and where speed and stealth are imperative. These duties are performed while wearing heavy rucksack and body armour. SOF personnel perform individual CQB and detainee handling which may require the individual to:

  • Combat and detain another person using blocking strikes;
  • Disarming;
  • Lifting;
  • Pulling;
  • Ground fighting;
  • Grappling; and
  • Moving a non-compliant person.

There is no tolerance for a lapse in attention when conducting CQB and other assaults while wearing night vision goggles as well as Special Operations Insertion and Extraction (SOIE) techniques. Accurate discrimination of non-combatants and precision engagement of enemy combatants requires extreme concentration.

Similarly, high-risk roped and un-roped insertions with no redundant safety systems require constant attention. SOF personnel require the ability for continuous analysis of the situation, environment, mission aims and unique foreign societal complexities during operations.

1.6     CANSOFCOM Human Performance Programmes

The CANSOFCOM Human Performance (HP) Programmes section sits within Human Performance Research and Development, an element of the Directorate of Fitness (DFIT) (itself an element of Personnel Support Programmes (PSP), a division of the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS)).

The HP Programmes conducts a variety tasks for CANSOFCOM which include:

  • HP Research;
  • Development of physical fitness selection and maintenance tests/standards;
  • Assessment centres;
  • Supporting physical fitness training programmes;
  • Other HP research as directed by the Commander CANSOFCOM.

The HP Programmes may utilise the CANSOFCOM Human Performance Research Team and the CANSOFCOM Human Performance Lab in order to realise these tasks.


2.0     Introduction

Information regarding the basic requirements for enlistment or commissioning in the CAF can be found by clicking on the link, which the reader is advised to read if not already familiar.

The CAF does not accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the CSOR. As a result, volunteers for the CSOR may be accepted from both CAF military personnel (both officer and enlisted) from any branch of military service to serve with the CSOR.

Consequently, there are two recognised pathways to become a member of the CSOR:

  1. Join as a Special Operations Supporter; or
  2. Join as a Special Forces Operator.

2.1     Recruiting Unit

Although the CSOR is the recruiting unit, candidates must volunteer for service with the CSOR through their chain of command using the current ‘Application Form for Service with CSOR’.

2.2     General Requirements and Eligibility for All Candidates

Subject to the requirements outlined below, all CAF officers and enlisted (other ranks) personnel are eligible to attend the CSOR assessment and selection programme.

General Requirements for all candidates:

  • Minimum two years’ military service for Regular forces;
  • Minimum three years’ military service for Reserve forces.
  • Obtain security clearance.
  • Obtain approval from chain of command;
  • Complete Pre-Screening Physical Fitness Test (Section 3.2).
  • Pass appropriate medical examination:
    • MOSID 00369, Special Forces Operator: V 2, CV 2, H 3, G 2, O 2, A 5.
  • Be parachute-trained or willing to undertake parachute training.


3.0     CSOR Selection and Training Phases

The journey to becoming a member of the CSOR is not easy, and training is rigorous and highly selective, but the courage and strength individuals will gain as a candidate will stay with them for their entire life.

The CSOR Programme is the selection and training process for all candidates wishing to join the Canadian SOF community.

In addition to Phase 1 (Basic Combat) Training, candidates must also have completed Phase 2 (Advanced Individualised) Training and volunteer for airborne training (unless already qualified) to be eligible for CSOR selection and training.

All CSOR candidates will undertake a number of distinct phases of training (Table 1), in which candidates are taught the fundamentals of CAF special warfare through formal CAF schooling and on-the-job training.

Table 1: CSOR training pipeline
Serial Sub-element/Course Duration
1 Meet Eligibility Criteria Variable
2 Pre-Screening Physical Fitness Test Variable
3 CSOR Selection Process 2 days
4 CSOR Assessment Centre ?2 weeks
5 Special Operations Basic Qualification Course ?17 weeks

3.1     Training Hierarchy

Candidates undergo training delivered by the Canadian Special Operations Training Centre (CSOTC). The CSOTC is commanded by a Major (OF-3) and is located at the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ontario.

3.2     Pre-Screening Physical Fitness Test

BPFA, RunningAll components of the Pre-Screening Physical Fitness Test (PFT) are administered by appropriately qualified Personnel Support Programmes (PSP) Fitness and Sports Instructors (Section 1.5). The results of a candidate’s Pre-Screening PFT test are valid up to a maximum of 6 months.

As outlined in an amendment issued by the Senior Fitness & Sports Manager (Couturier, 2015), CFMWS (dated 03 July 2015), CAT 2 candidates are no longer required to meet the CF EXPRES Minimum Physical Fitness Standard (MPFS), Basic Military Swim Standard Test (BMSST), 13 km Loaded March nor the Casualty Evacuation (aka Casualty Drag). CAT 2 candidates are now only required to meet FORCE minimum physical fitness standards for Pre-Screening.

FORCE is an acronym of Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment. The FORCE Programme was officially launched on 01 April 2013 on a trial basis and became the official CAF fitness standard on 01 April 2014.

Table 2 provides an outline of the Pre-Screening PFT for CAT 1 candidates.

Table 2: CSOR PFT for CAT 1 candidates
Day Event Description
1 20 metre shuttle run Minimum of Level 9 (non-stop): equates to a predicted VO2peak of 47.6 ml/kg−1min−1)
Press-ups 40 or more (non-stop) 
Sit-ups 40 or more in a time limit of one minute
Heaves 5 or more (non-stop)
Combat Swim Test 25 metre swim in combats, boots, rifle and no flotation (no time limit)
2 Loaded March 13 kilometres carrying 35 kg in 2 hours 26 minutes (and 20 seconds) or less
Casualty Drag
  • A straight-line route of 25 metres on even grassed ground should be chosen in order to prevent unnecessary injury.
  • The test requirement is to evacuate a simulated casualty of similar weight, but weighing no less than 70kg (1541bs) a distance of 25 metres.
  • Each candidate will wear helmet and webbing/tac vest.
  • The candidate performing the drag will carry their own and the casualty’s weapon.
Source: Couturier, 2015

3.3     CSOR Selection Process

The CSOR Selection Process is divided into two phases:

  • Phase 1: In Phase I of the selection process, Canadian Forces members of the regular and reserve forces apply for service with a SO Unit and receive approval for their application from their current Unit’s Commanding Officer.
  • Phase 2: Candidates will complete a PFT, medical evaluation, aptitude testing and a structured interview with a Personnel Selection Officer. Candidate’s files are then forwarded to the respective Unit to which they are applying for service.

At this point, Unit review boards are held, and candidates who meet the minimum threshold for service with that specific Unit are then invited to attend the CSOR Assessment Process, at the appropriately named Assessment Centre.

3.4     CSOR Assessment Centre

Appraisal (12)The CSOR Assessment Centre (AC), also known as the Assessment Phase (AP) and SF Operator AC, is a structured assessment process designed to measure performance while placing candidates under physical and mental stress in order to determine their suitability to undertake the Special Operations Basic Qualification course and ultimately be employed as a CSOR Special Forces Operator.

With this in mind, candidates undergo a rigorous selection process designed to assess a number of critical attributes that have been linked to task performance on the job. Extremely high levels of physical fitness and personal motivation are crucial for the successful completion of the CSOR Assessment Centre. Therefore, the physical demands placed on candidates during the selection process reflect the actual job and training demands, and permits candidates performances to be observed in controlled conditions and environments.

During the assessment process, candidates may decide that the job, as previewed during the assessment process, is not right for them, and thereby voluntarily withdraw (VW). In the same vain, the Unit may decide that a candidate, based on multiple assessments during the assessment process, is not suitable for further training.

From this perspective, assessment centres are not only a cost-effective approach to selection as personnel are screened-out prior to expensive training, but they also ensure that the right person is put into the right job, at the right time.

Upon completion of the CSOR Assessment Centre, a selection board is held to determine which candidates that have completed the assessment process will be invited to attend further training on the Special Operations Basic Qualification Course. Successful completion of the CSOR Assessment Centre does not guarantee selection.

“From the statistical analysis, the key predictors of AC completion were VO2peak (βexp: 7.91; CI: 1.6-38.7), 1-repetition maximum squats (βexp: 6.11; CI: 1.5-24.9) and number of continuous pull-ups (βexp: 3.59; CI: 1.0-12.7), thus further highlighting the importance of aerobic capacity, lower and upper body muscular strength.” (Carlson & Jaenen, 2011, p.212).

3.5     Special Operations Basic Qualification Course

US Army Special Forces, Green Beret, SFQC, Canadian Soldier“For the first selection course, which ran from mid-April until early August [2006], 300 soldiers applied and 175 were chosen. By the end of the selection process about 125 remained to don the new tan beret at the Aug. 13 stand-up ceremony, officially becoming operators in CSOR’s 1 Direct Action Company.” (Day, 2006).

The Special Operations Basic Qualification Course (SOBQ) is approximately 17 weeks in duration.

Originally, the first three weeks of the course was an assessment phase. Candidates would also have been given the basic Army knowledge required for the more advanced elements of the course.

During the SOBQ, candidates receive individual and collective training in (but not limited to):

  • Land navigation;
  • Patrolling;
  • Basic and advanced weapons; and
  • Insertion and extraction techniques.

3.6     Graduation

Upon successful completion of the Special Operations Basic Qualification Course, the candidate will officially become one of the approximately 750+ members of the CSOR.

Candidates will receive their tan beret and join (based on their category):

  • One of three Direct Action Companies (similar to the US Army Ranger’s);
  • The Special Forces Company (similar to the US Army’s Special Forces, aka Green Berets) (unverified); or
  • The Support Company.

The Military Occupational Structure Identification (MOSID) for special operations is MOSID 00369, Special Forces Operations (SF OP). Non-commissioned Members (NCM) transfer to this MOSID, commissioned officers retain their original MOSID.

Application and selection for JTF 2 is a separate process; candidates cannot laterally transfer from the CSOR to JTF 2. CSOR Special Forces Operators are required to serve with the CSOR for three years after completion of the SOBQ.

3.7     Special Operations Support Orientation Course

Upon arrival at CSOR, all new (non-Operator) members undergo the Special Operations Support Orientation course. This course prepares support personnel for their duties as a member of CSOR and ensures a heightened level of deployment readiness.


4.0     Summary

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment training pipeline is open to all male and female officers and enlisted personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces, subject to certain criteria. CSOR training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.

4.1     TV Documentaries

  • In 2014, the Canadian W5/CTV News filmed the CSOR during Exercise Flintlock, an exercise organised by the United States Africa Command.

4.2     Useful Books, Documents and Magazines

4.3     Useful Links

4.4     References

Campion-Smith, B. (2016) Looking for a Few Good Women – Canada’s Military goes on a Hiring Spree. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/03/14/looking-for-a-few-good-women-canadas-military-goes-on-a-hiring-spree.html. [Accessed: 20 April, 2016].

Carlson, M.J. & Jaenen, S.P. (2011) Development of a Pre-Selection Physical Fitness Training Program for Canadian Special Operations Regiment Applicants. 2nd International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance. 04-07 May 2011, p.212. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.jyu.fi/sport/laitokset/liikuntabiologia/en/congresses/archive/icspp2011/final_announcement. [Accessed: 21 April, 2016].

Couturier, D. (2015) Amendment – CSOR Pre-Screening Physical Fitness Test – Operations Manual – Amendments. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.cfmws.com/en/AboutUs/PSP/DFIT/Fitness/Pages/Canadian-Special-Operations-Regiment-(CSOR).aspx. [Accessed: 21 April, 2016].

Day, A. (2006) Canada’s New Special Ops. Available from World Wide Web: https://legionmagazine.com/en/2006/11/canadas-new-special-ops/. [Accessed: 21 April, 2016].

Day, S.J. (2013) 9/11 and Canadian Special Operations Forces: How ’40 Selected Men’ Indelibly Influenced the Future of the Force. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA583821. [Accessed: 17 April, 2016].

Horn, B. (2012) “We Will Find a Way”: Understanding the Legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces. JSOU Report 12-2. February 2012. Available from World Wide Web: http://jsou.socom.mil/JSOU%20Publications/12-2_Horn_CanadianSOF(Feb12)_final.PDF. [Accessed: 17 April, 2016].

Jean, G. (2006) Commandos See Expanded Mission Portfolio. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2006/June/Pages/CommandosSee2954.aspx. [Accessed: 17 April, 2016].

Knarr, W., Turnley, J.G., Stewart, D.J., Rubright, R. & Quirin, J. (2014) Special Operations Forces Mixed-Gender Elite Teams (SOFMET): Examining Socio-Cultural Dynamics of SOFMET. Joint Special Operations University, Centre for Special Operations Studies and Research. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/wisr-studies/SOCOM%20-%20JSOU%20Study%20on%20Special%20Operations%20Forces%20Mixed-Gender%20Elite%20Team3.pdf. [Accessed: 20 April, 2016].

Pugliese, D. (2014) Canada’s Secret Soldiers: Special Forces’ Work Takes Place Under The Radar. Available from World Wide Web: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/canadas-secret-soldiers-special-forces-work-takes-place-under-the-radar. [Accessed: 22 April, 2016].


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