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An ominous but motivational recruiting video titled “Ghosts in the Machine” rocked the internet in May 2022. Was it simply a recruiting effort for the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne)? Or a capabilities demonstration with an eye toward enemies of the United States? Either way, the video is well-crafted and thought-provoking — a masterclass in the art of psychological operations, courtesy of those who have made it through Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Assessment and Selection.  

Like many other special operations forces, soldiers must make it through a physically and mentally demanding training pipeline that starts with a grueling assessment and selection before they enter the ranks of PSYOP. 

A brief history of the PSYOP assessment and selection

The history of PSYOP units dates back to World War I and is intertwined with Special Forces lineage. The first PSYOP assessment and selection goes back to the early 1950s when the 1st Psychological Warfare Battalion was activated. 

The first-ever PSYOP courses took place under the Army General School at Ft. Riley, Kansas, over six weeks in 1951. The formation of graduates of both the psychological officer and non-commissioned officer courses was small in those days, with 39 officers graduating in June and 45 NCOs graduating in November.

Later, the Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) Center was established at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (now called Fort Liberty) in April 1952. The center consolidated all PSYWAR functions and personnel carrying them out. Col. Charles H. Karlstad was the first commander of the center, a combat veteran of both World Wars, and former Chief of Staff of the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia (now called Fort Moore).

The Psychological Warfare School was established under the PSYWAR Center in October 1952. The distinctive unit insignia (DUI) for the Psywar Center and School was approved in November 1952 and is the same design you see today. But the PSYWAR Center was later redesignated as the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center and School in 1956.

The history of the assessment and selection course has waxed and waned with the deactivation and re-activation of PSYOP units multiple times throughout history, always answering the call of current conflicts the U.S. Military is involved in. 

How long is the PSYOP assessment and selection?

PSYOP assessment and selection lasts 10 days. Master Sgt. Mathews, the NCOIC of the PSYOP Assessment and Selection course said it’s designed to assess for leadership qualities, critical thinking, and the ability to effectively communicate to populations of people anywhere in the world, including scaring the hell out of the bad guys. 

“We’re looking at soldiers who are adept at conducting research to understand target audiences,” Mathews said. “And use critical thinking to determine the best methods and arguments to influence and effectively communicate verbally and in writing using multimedia.”

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But, there’s still more work ahead after you make it through the grueling ten days. There is a follow-on pipeline of at least another 41 weeks of physically and mentally demanding training, called the PSYOP Qualification Course. That total timeline can vary depending on the language assigned during that portion of the training. 

You will need to make it through all of the training before you become the ghost in the machine: a PSYOP soldier. But once you do, you will be a force to reckon with, specializing in influence and deception. 

PSYOP assessment and selection requirements

The path to PSYOP can start after you’ve already joined or if you’re new to the Army. For initial entry soldiers, you must go through Military Police One Station Unit Training, which serves as the Basic and Advanced Individual Training path for PSYOP. 

Soldiers must meet the basic requirements for initial entry training, the Basic Airborne course, and the rest of the PSYOP requirements listed below.  

Initial entry

These requirements are for those joining the Army, including prior service. 

  • If prior service, soldiers cannot have more than 10 years combined active federal service.
  • ​GT score of 105 or above (non-waiverable).
  • Pass the Physical Fitness Assessment. 
  • ​DLAB Score of 75 or higher.
  • Must be willing to volunteer for airborne training.
  • Must have at least a five-year minimum enlistment contract.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen.
  • Must be eligible to possess a secret security clearance. 
  • Must be eligible to obtain and possess a top secret with sensitive compartmented information (SCI) security clearance.

In-service soldiers

These requirements are for soldiers already in the Army. If you’re looking for a challenge, you can drop a PSYOP packet, and if you meet all requirements, you’ll find yourself on your way to Airborne School if haven’t graduated from that course already, followed by the PSYOP assessment and selection.  

  • Must have a rank no higher than sergeant (non-promotable).
    • Promotable sergeants and staff sergeants with less than 10 years on active duty and staff sergeants within the first six months of obtaining their rank can request a waiver to attend. 
  • Must have a minimum of 18 months on active duty.
  • Must have no more than 10 years of combined active federal service.
  • GT score of 105 or above (waiverable).
  • Able to run three to six miles at a nine-minute-per-mile pace.
  • Able to complete a 12 to 18-mile road march with a 35-pound rucksack.
  • DLAB Score of 75 or higher (waiverable).
  • Must be airborne qualified or willing to volunteer.
  • Must have 36 months of service remaining following completion of training.
  • No UCMJ actions within two years of attending PSYOP Assessment and Selection (waiverable).
  • Must possess or be eligible for a secret security clearance.
  • Eligible for a top secret with sensitive compartmented information (SCI) security clearance within two years of completing training.
  • Pass the ACFT: Two-mile run 15:00 minutes or faster, 80% on hand release pushups standard, and pass the plank. 

Officer

Officers have very similar requirements.

  • Be a first lieutenant in a targeted year group, usually in the third year of service.
  • Have a bachelor’s degree.
  • DLAB Score of 75 or higher (waiverable).
  • Airborne qualified or willing to volunteer for that training.
  • Eligible for a top secret with sensitive compartmented information (SCI) security clearance.
  • 36-month active duty service obligation (ADSO) is incurred upon the completion of training.

PSYOP assessment and selection preparation

Capt. James, the PSYOP assessment selection officer in charge (OIC), said preparing yourself mentally and physically is essential. 

“Not just physically but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. All four of those are going to be tested while they’re out here. If you have a weakness in your chain, it’s definitely going to show while you’re out here,” James said. “Secondly, officers or NCOs coming out here need that leadership ability and the ability to adapt to a small team setting while putting the team’s welfare above yourself.”

The PSYOP regiment has a recommended train-up program for those who need some help figuring out how to prepare themselves physically for assessment and selection. You can find that program here

But, if you are already in the Army and have the opportunity to attend the Basic Leadership Course, then do that before dropping your PSYOP packet. That makes you a much more valuable candidate. 

If you are joining the Army under the 37F PSYOP soldier MOS, make sure your personal life is in order. If you’re married, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page with how often you may be deployed. Have three kids? Make sure to gut-check yourself on how much of their lives you are willing to miss out on while in training or deployed. 

There are no right answers to those personal situations, but make sure you reckon with the long-term effects of your decision on your personal life before you start signing papers. 

What is PSYOP assessment and selection really like?

PSYOP recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Romero said a key portion of how difficult PSYOP assessment and selection is, is dictated by your level of fitness. The cadre will test you physically, and if you can’t hack it, you may ‘unexpectedly’ quit or get dropped. They are looking for those with strong character, intellect, leadership, and fitness capabilities.

But the physical nature of assessment and selection isn’t the main culprit.

“The physical aspect of selection will [likely] never get you knocked out. It comes down to being able to lead,” Romero said. “When there’s a time to lead, and it’s time for those key leader engagements, it’s hard. If you don’t sound competent, or you’re just a deer in headlights, that’s what usually gets most of our guys out.”

Some people have natural leadership qualities, while others do not. The training is designed to bring out your leadership ability. So if you come prepared with a high level of fitness, you’re halfway there. 

Romero said some of his recruits are well-prepared because of their background in public speaking, and for those that don’t have that background, he conducts sergeant training time to get them more comfortable speaking in front of people, but also, to high-ranking military members. 

“Once they get used to talking to their peers, and there’s no more hiccups, that helps them out,” Romero said. “But a lot of soldiers that do seek PSYOP and they know they want to do it, they go — on their own — and get those speech classes at a community college or somewhere similar.” 

And, of course, the assessment and selection course is grueling so a never-quit attitude is vital. 

FAQs about PSYOP

You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Do you have to go through Military Police One Station Unit Training if you have already attended AIT for a different MOS?

A: No. You just need to meet the in-service requirements detailed above. 

Q: Is PSYOP a special operations unit? 

A: Yes. They have a longstanding place in SOF history. Fun fact: there appears to be a bit of a rivalry between them and Special Forces. 

Q: Is the Ghost Army of WWII the same unit as today’s PSYOP Regiment?

A: No. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the “Ghost Army,” was the first mobile multimedia unit skilled in tactical deception. Very similar mission to today’s PSYOP Regiment, and because of that, the Ghost Army was added as an honorary organization of PSYOP heritage alongside the OSS and Morale Operations of WWII.  

Q: Is this entire article one big PSYOP to get me to join PSYOP?

A: No, definitely not. Well, probably not – never say never, right? Haha. Actually, why did I decide to write this story? Did my editor assign this to me? Now that I think about it… No. Can’t be. There’s no way this is a PSYOP. I’m too aware to be PSYOPed. I did watch that Ghost In The Machine video like 30 times though… WHAT IS REAL ANYMORE!?!?

Editor’s note: I think we broke Josh. He’s in the corner of the newsroom rocking back and forth in the fetal position.

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