FAYETTEVILLE, NC – “No matter what I do, I am looking to be the best,” said Spec. Lukasz Herbst, 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).“ Being Special Forces presents the greatest test, something that is physically, mentally and academically challenging.”
Herbst, a native of Poland and now a U.S. citizen, enlisted in the Army as part of the Military Accessions Vitalto National Interest. Along with 27 U.S. Soldiers with nativeties to Africa and Europe, he is part of the 10th SFG (A) MAVNI Program designed to train and prepare them for Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Military Information Support and/or Operations, or to stay in the SF unit.
Since July, members of the 3rd Battalion, 10th SFG (A) have established the program that will prepare these individuals for SOF-related jobs. The program is designed to prepare them both physically and mentally as well as placing them on SF teams to gain knowledge for the road ahead.
“There is a lot of value added to having them with the SF teams as we tap into other areas of the world,” said a Special Forces captain. “When that Soldier can talk to guys in this community and tap into that resource, they’re telling him what’s important to prepare for. On the flip side, that Soldier is serving as a translator and an asset for the team while they conduct training exercises in African countries.”
As assets, two of the Soldiers have deployed with SF Operational Detachment – Alpha teams in African countries to conduct joint training exercises. An additional five Soldiers will also have the same opportunity in the coming months, while five others are currently serving in Iraq.
The candidates come from various cultures and backgrounds; however, most of them hold bachelor’s degrees from well-known colleges, speak multiple languages and dialects, and were top athletes at some point in their lives. Notably, 19 Soldiers have completed the Basic Airborne School while the others await their chance to attend.
“Their life stories and what they’ve been through are amazing,” said a sergeant first class training the Soldiers.“ Most of them grew up in a third world country, came to America, got a degree at a reputable institution, all on their own… these are driven guys.”
Herbst, a swimmer for Western Kentucky University, enlisted in the Army as an engineer diver. During physical fitness training, he has helped teach some of the Soldiers how to swim. He graduated from college with a double major in psychology and physiology.
Another Soldier, Private 1st Class Edmond Kiptum, went to the College of Southwest in New Mexico on a track and field scholarship. After attending college for three years, he decided to join the U.S. Army through the MAVNI Program.
At the completion of basic training, a Special Forces recruiter spoke to him about going to 10th SFG (A), and trying out for a SOF position.
“I was really interested in what the recruiter had to say because I knew I would be a great candidate,” Kiptum said.“ With my background and language skills, I felt I could bean asset with operations in Africa.”
Kiptum, a native of Kenya, grew up going to school and working for his father at a local restaurant in his home town. After completing high school, he worked with a missionary group that provided medication to people with malaria. To work for the group, he had to speak English, Swahili, and Kalenjin, a language most commonly used in Kenya.
“I know that I am going to be an asset if I get picked up for Special Forces,” Kiptum said. “I know the culture and the people in Africa, and that would help the team while they have to travel to those countries.”
During their down time, Soldiers such as Herbst, Kiptumand others, teach each other different cultures and languages including Swahili, Polish, Russian and French.
“We try to help each other out and work as a team while preparing for selection,” Herbst said.“ There may be something that someone else has knowledge on, and could be beneficial for the rest of us.”
The Selection Process
When a Soldier comes to the unit and is identified for the MAVNI Program, he begins in-processing with the Headquarters Support Company, 3rd Battalion, 10th SFG(A). He receives his initial Army Physical Fitness Test, initiates and receives a security clearance, files for a passport, and goes through the command language program to be certified in languages deemed critical to the U.S. Army.
After in-processing, the Soldier will either stay at the company to continue training, be utilized at the medical clinic if he is a medic or is placed on an ODA to receive on-the-job training.
“We’ve had some great feedback from the teams as they assess them, and we keep a file on what they are doing,” said the Special Forces captain.“ They are being used on operational deployments in Iraq getting that combat experience, and in Africa as translators for those foreign militaries.”
For the Soldiers who stay at the company, they participate in physical fitness activities each day. Since the course began, they have spent four weeks undergoing water survival training, six weeks in land navigation training and took part in a 10-day Special Forces Basic Combat Course –Support training exercise.
“I didn’t even know how to swim when I got to the unit,”Kiptum explained.“ But they worked with me, starting off in floatation devices for a couple weeks. By the third week, I was swimming side-by-side with everyone else in the deepend.”
Kiptum explained the physical training and critical training classes have really benefitted and challenged him, something he feels will better prepare him for the future.
“We have to keep working harder toward our goal,” he said.“ I’m not going to say I am ready right now, when I know there is still more to learn. I’m going to keep working hard until the date comes to attend the class.”
In the next few months, the battalion will hold a “decision-making board” with each Soldier to determine his needs and what he wants to do in his career.
“Ultimately, the decision is the Soldier’s,” said theSpecial Forces captain. “We want to educate them on their options, whether it’s SF, CA, MISO or staying with the unit and finding other ways to contribute.”
“We are pleased that so many have already shown an interest in attending SFAS,” the captain said. “There are so many ways to categorize success, but at the end of the day, we would like for them to stay in the community and find other ways to contribute to SOF.”
So far, three Soldiers have expressed desires to attend the Civil Affairs course, and 15 want to attend SF Selection. While the others continue to weigh their options, they all agree the program has been successful thus far.
“This is one of the best programs to be a part of, and we have yet to reach its fullest potential,” Kiptum said. “We are just at the beginning; we still face a lot of challenges. One of the best things is the continued support and guidance from our leadership.”