ULTIMATE TRAINING: The making of Green Beret Special Forces support soldiers
TORII STATION, Okinawa – The five-man team of U.S. Army Special Forces support Soldiers entered the dimly lit room with caution and prepared for the worst. Three burly Green Berets, outfitted in ink-black protective suits, stalked their nescient prey, giving pause to the support Soldiers whose task was to determine the threat and react accordingly. Like most forays into the unknown, things didn’t go as planned for the five Soldiers, who were arbitrarily choked, beaten and shot with their own weapons by a numerically inferior force.
After the dust settled, the Soldiers picked themselves and their M4 rifles off the mat and received a colorful critique of their performance.
“You’ve got to know when to use your weapon,” a Green Beret bellowed. “Your buddy’s over here getting choked out and you’re trying to pull me off of him,” he said as the fatigued Soldiers tried to absorb the knowledge that could mean the difference between life and death. “You guys forgot everything you just learned.”
Most special operations forces require non-SOF assistance. This is a SOF truth that defines the Special Forces support Soldier. From cooks to mechanics, supply to communications, the Green Berets rely on specialized troopers for support – in garrison, in the field and most critically, in combat. But the legendary regiment isn’t looking for just any Soldier to lend a hand. The Green Berets demand excellence and the ability to operate with minimal guidance and supervision. In short, they play by big-boy rules.
“The ideal support Soldier for [Special Forces] would have to be a fire-and-forget Soldier,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Boyd. “They should be reliable, dependable and trustworthy with the understanding that they will be required and expected to accomplish all of their tasks with little to no supervision without fail. They must be adaptable and versatile with the ability to problem solve any unforeseen circumstances or events. A [Special Forces] support Soldier must be resilient and ready to deploy at all times,” he said.
Not only should the Soldier be physically superior, but mentally tough and able to endure the stressors associated with being in a high operation’s tempo organization, said Boyd.
Special Forces battalions include support companies composed of support Soldiers to include communications, mechanics, riggers, cooks, personnel services, chaplain, legal and others. Before 9/11, the only organic direct support unit servicing Special Forces battalions was the Battalion Support Company. However with the addition of the Forward Support Company as a force multiplier, the battalions can move faster, further and with more.
According to an article written by Lt. Col. Joseph R. Kurz, Maj. Michael G. Mourouzis and Maj. Christopher S. Jones, Special Forces operators today avoid the lengthy, bureaucracy connected with the request for forces process to gain dedicated support, thanks to significantly more enabling and sustaining power with organic support battalions and companies.
According to Army Field Manual 3-05, “As long as enemies and adversaries continue to employ conventional and nonconventional means against the United States and its allies, and terrorist networks continue their efforts to strike the homeland and interests abroad, Army Special Operations Forces will remain indispensable to the Nation’s defense.” This makes the enablers critical to the success of the operators and their mission.
Recently, 34 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group graduated from the battalion’s Special Forces Basic Combat Course – Support; a rigorous, exhausting inquisition designed to test physical and mental mettle. For 14 days the Soldiers grinded through land navigation, maritime operations, heavy weapons, Airborne operations, patrolling, combatives and more.
“This class is made up of the mechanics, cooks, ammo handlers, supply clerks, truck drivers, communications specialists, [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear] guys, intelligence analysts, and human resource personnel that comprise [Headquarters Support Company] and [Forward Support Company], said Company Commander Capt. “Bobby,” whose last name is being withheld for operations security. “Support is our middle name, and that is what we do,” he said.
Like every Soldier in the Army, each morning for these fresh-faced enablers began with physical training at 4 a.m. under the glow of the Okinawan moon -- each Soldier running on a marginal amount of sleep and grit to get through the day.
According to cadre, the intent is to provide Soldiers foundational skills to integrate with and operate alongside Special Forces teams. In the “First in Asia” Battalion, they are not only expected to be a masters of their specialties, but to also be a jack-of-all-trades and always ready for combat.
“As high functioning and busy as the Green Beret community is, there are certain skills that get pushed to the wayside due to other missions,” said Sgt. Peter Folz, who earned the title of Distinguished Honor Graduate. “Our job as enablers is to fill these rolls as effectively and efficiently as possible to make sure our Green Berets only have to worry about their mission,” he said.
As the first and possibly last Soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Green Beret’s operational tempo doesn’t look to ebb anytime soon, making the role of the enabler and their ability to withstand the rigors of combat essential to success on the battlefield.
“I learned to find the motivation to keep going to complete the task or mission despite the discomfort or pain, said Honor Graduate, Spc. James Dodge. “I found myself finding that motivation in the teammates to my left and right, knowing that if they weren't going to fail me I wasn't going to fail them.”
In the end, there was no special recognition for the Soldiers who successfully passed, save the respect of their peers and the Soldiers they support, along with the knowledge and experience that are necessary for combat.
“Men, you have just completed a grueling course with no badge, no patch and no tab to show for … with only your [Special Forces Basic Combat Course – Support] stories to keep you warm at night,” said Capt. “Bobby.”