In order to be among the best, one must overcome extreme adversity -be they physical or mental challenges- in order to prove that they are worthy to wear the Green Beret.

However, before on can even consider getting close to a long tab or beret, one has to head to North Carolina’s Scotland County to meet -and defeat- a fearsome competitor.

Enter “Nasty Nick.”

A local fixture of Camp MacKall, the Colonel James “Nick” Rowe Training Compound is home to one of the hardest obstacle courses in the US military, one that makes and breaks men who attempt to complete Special Forces training.

It contains 25 obstacles over a course of two miles, requiring upper body strength, balance and coordination to complete.

If a candidate afraid of heights, “Nick” will find out. If they’re claustrophobic, “Nick” will get the drop on them. If they are unable to push past the fear and complete the mission, “Nick” will have beaten them.

The course is named after Special Forces Colonel James “Nick” Rowe, a veteran of the Vietnam War. During the conflict Rowe was a young officer who was captured in a Viet Cong ambush and held as a POW for five years before escaping his captors on the day he was to be executed.

Using the know-how he earned “the hard way” while being a Prisoner of War, Rowe helped develop the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) course at Camp Mackall.

The course is run regardless of the weather. Rain or shine, mud and snow, “Nasty Nick” takes a toll on many Some fail, some are injured and a few completely refuse and are disqualified.

The course is so crucial in “making a Green Beret” that long-graduated and established members of America’s Special Forces are often sent back to revisit the course, in order to keep their skills sharp.

“This obstacle course is a part of the Special Forces heritage,” said then-Maj. Kent Solheim, whose 3rd SFG company was sent back to the course in 2013. “It’s nice to come back and revisit that.”

On the day of the event, one Green Beret recalled his first time at the course- 23 years prior

My first time seeing Nasty Nick was back in 1990,” said then- CW4 Jeff Miller. “Over time the obstacles have changed and some have become more difficult. Any time I’ve ever completed this course, it has been a challenge mentally and physically.”

While new techniques and training come and go- one thing will remain the same, it seems: If you come across a soldier with a Green Beret, odds are they’ll have a story about the time they went toe-to-toe with “Nick.”

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