ARLINGTON, VA (SSG Darron Salzer) – At any given moment there are small teams of elite Soldiers deployed around the world who are conducting operations that many may never hear of. The Soldiers, often referred to as Green Berets, are members of Special Forces – an Army-specific special operations force – and are considered by many to be among the best in the world when it comes to unconventional warfare and increasing the combat potential of forces around the globe.
Of the seven Special Forces groups within the Army, two are part of the Army National Guard: 19th SFG and 20th SFG.
Army Guard Soldiers from those units have been a key part of the special operations forces capability during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as around the world.
“Over the past 12-13 years, Guard Special Forces have not only provided additional force structure to special operations forces at large, but we’ve continued to prove that Guard [Special Forces] teams are on par with our active component counterparts,” said Army Maj. Joseph Bauldry, deputy chief of the Special Operations Branch at the National Guard Bureau.
“Guard Soldiers are often more experienced than our active component counterparts,” Bauldry said, “in not only the current conflict, but also in the things we Special Forces previously did prior, such as conducting Joint Combined Exchange Training and Foreign Internal Defense missions.”
Missions Bauldry sees Special Forces returning to again.
“I see us revisiting the mission sets that predominated the 1980s and ’90s as well as continuing to support contingency operations around the world. We will stay busy,” he said.
Another unique quality that an Army Guard Special Forces Soldier has is skill sets that carry over from their civilian careers that enable them to strengthen their knowledge and abilities while in uniform.
Bauldry said prevalent careers among many Army Guard Special Forces Soldiers are local and federal law enforcement.
“U.S. Army Special Operations Command, or USASOC, has taken note of this capability that the active component just does not have,” he said. “USASOC is looking to the Guard to leverage this law enforcement knowledge and latest techniques, which is often a critical component in fighting the seeds of insurgency and lawlessness in many nations.
“Soldiers who are Guard members, that’s their full-time job, every day,” he said.
Despite any institutional differences, every Soldier must complete the Special Forces Qualification Course, or Q-Course, before they can call themselves a Green Beret.
“It continues to evolve over time, but it typically begins with small unit tactics training followed by separate training in one of five [military occupational specialty] specific training areas: Weapons sergeant, engineer sergeant, medical sergeant, communication sergeant, and officer training,” Bauldry said.
“Soldiers then rejoin for an unconventional warfare culmination exercise, where they put together everything they’ve learned,” and work as small teams to complete the exercise, he said.
Next, Soldiers go through the SF training pipeline, consisting of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape – or SERE – training, and language training.
“After successful completion of all of this training, Soldiers are awarded Special Forces tab and can then don their Green Beret,” he said.
The training doesn’t stop there. Bauldry said Special Forces Soldiers can also go through high-altitude military parachuting, or military free fall school, and combat diver school – just two out of a handful of schools – depending upon what role the Soldier will have within their assigned unit.
That special training often requires constant recertification, a task that can be challenging for Army Guard SF units.
“National Guard Special Forces members have to seek out those opportunities after they are done at work, on the weekends or when they are tired,” said Army Maj. Sam with the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida, “but they persevere through it and that’s why I think there is a different level of dedication – not better, not worse – but there is a different level of dedication that National Guard members have in contributing to the defense of our nation.
“I know that it is hard for teams to get together, let alone to get extra time to do training and prepare to fight our nation’s battles, but they work really hard down here, and I would put them on par with any active duty combat dive team.”
Being fully-qualified is vital though, and the balance between civilian jobs and maintaining competency in Special Forces skills is what Sam said makes the Guard unique.
“I think it is vital that Guard members hold the same qualifications that the active duty members have,” he said. “Guard members are unique though, in that they go above and beyond to keep those skills, to maintain those skills, or to advance those skills and it’s not easy to do. I would argue that it is harder to do in the National Guard than it is in the active component, where the active duty guys are training during the duty day.”
The constant training is not just busy work though. It enables a unit or teams the ability to effectively and efficiently do what Special Forces do best.
“We train specifically in skill sets that enable us to work with indigenous people and cultures around the world,” said Army Master Sgt. Rick, an operations sergeant with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 20th SFG (Airborne). “For us, operating as a small package with a powerful punch, it’s a cost effective way to accomplish the needs of the nation in certain scenarios, instead of sending in a whole battalion. Basically, we are a force multiplier and that’s kind of our bread and butter in Special Forces.”
It’s a capability that lends itself to the atmosphere surrounding Special Forces around the world.
“It’s not uncommon for special operations teams to be deployed across the globe such as training and advising at a much greater degree, which most people do not realize – that kind of alludes to our ‘quiet professionals’ moniker,” Bauldry said.
Bauldry encourages anyone interested to try out for the team.
“It’s a rewarding opportunity and I would encourage all those who are interested to try out. We are always looking for strong candidates who are looking for a challenge and who want to get more out of their Guard experience,” he said.