Is lack of a Basic Infantry Background problematic?

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#1
Hi,

I read a piece on SOFREP a while back, (during one of their all-access free weekends) that claimed that SEALs were having difficulties in Afghanistan due to not having an infantry background. It made sense, since SEALs are usually from a non-infantry background. The article claimed that Rangers were providing support to SEALs in certain situations, and picking up their slack when it came time to "switch from operator to grunt mode" (that may be an exact quote, although I don't have access to the article anymore so can't be sure.) The article was basically claiming that Army SOFs have the ability to make the switch from 'operator' mode to 'grunt' mode, because they were all grunts at one time, but the SEALs don't have a grunt "mode."

But I was wondering how big of a problem this actually is. Keep in mind the author of SOFREP is from an Army background (Ranger I think), so maybe that article was a little biased. But it does raise an interesting question... Does the lack of a basic infantry background cause issues for SEALs, now that they are not just deploying in specialized maritime roles, as they were originally meant to be?

Thanks
 

Devildoc

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#2
When any of the SOF units push beyond their scope there is a potential for trouble. I have seen NSW guys bite off more than they can chew with regard to large, multi-unit operations; it isn't their forte. Although I was neither NSW nor infantry, I was assigned to infantry, so there's my bias. I am also comfortable in saying you should not take a Marine company and try to make them do SOF missions, either.
 
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#3
yep, that's also the only scenario mentioned specifically by SOFREP where SEALs are at a disadvantage i.e. in multi-unit operations. I can't really think of much else either... In any case, let's assume there are other disadvantages. That begs the question, why were SEALs forced into such roles? I guess this is more of a history question... Was it just normal bureaucratic 'mission creep' over time? And is this something that SOCOM will eventually correct?
 

Ocoka

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#4
There were some questions raised about the appropriateness of giving SEAL units certain missions in OEF that might have been better suited to SFOD-Delta. Some of these issues came up during the Anaconda operation. It was suggested that in some instances the SEALs, perhaps believing their own infallibility, tended to rush into situations without fully appreciating the tactical environment. But in fairness, some of these instances occurred during the early years of OEF.

It is true that Soldiers and Marines progress through a variety of land warfare courses from infantry onward and there's a lot to be said for the years of education one gets as a rifleman, machine-gunner, paratrooper, squad leader, platoon sergeant or whatnot on the way to SOF. It's not switching to grunt mode, it's having a firm foundation in infantry tactics and weapons, and all the other aspects of land warfare operations that SEALs don't generally experience prior to BUDs/UDT etc. Maybe that factors in, maybe not.
 
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#5
That makes sense. I guess it just comes down to the amount of tactical experience, and even the more mundane skills like navigation add up over time spent in the regular infantry.
 

digrar

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#6
Hi,

I read a piece on SOFREP a while back, (during one of their all-access free weekends) that claimed that SEALs were having difficulties in Afghanistan due to not having an infantry background.
It was raised here
Takur Ghar: The SEALs and Rangers on Roberts Ridge, Afghanistan 2002 By Leigh Neville
Takur Ghar too.

Which reminds me, I used to be on a forum with Leigh about ten years ago, can't remember which one.
 

Diamondback 2/2

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#8
What is "operator mode"?O_o

SUT is SUT, each branch has their own way of doing it. Marines do it different than Army and SEAL's, well, their different. Above platoon level operations, it really boils down to the senior leadership and primarily good unit to unit coordination and communication. The tactics really don't change, they just get bigger in complexity, requiring a solid staff and commanders. In other words the bigger you get unit wise, the more everyone needs to be on the same page, meaning the more you have to play by the book. If you took 2 platoons of Army Infantry and tasked them over to a Marine Infantry company, there will be problems in any reenforced company level operations.

This is why company level and above operations are trained at places like JRTC and NTC. Now obviously Rangers and SF are mostly going to come from this world or at least have a loose relationship with it (a understanding if not extensive background in it). But the SEAL community, not so much. It's not really their fault and outside of embedding some platoons with Infantry batalions, not much will ever change that.

Alot of the divisions can be present in the Army or Marine Infantry as well. The differences between how light and heavy infantry conduct operations are vast. When you can call up armor support, use them as fire support or in blocking maneuvers, it changes your tactics, speed and unit coordination vs a light unit, who normally will be conducting operations at a slower more deliberate pace.

Anyway, it really boils down to right tool for the right job. You are not going to send out a bunch of 3ID Infantryman to take down a hostage situation on a cruise ship in international waters (extreme situation) and SEAL's probably shouldn't be involved in Batalion level assualts in the mountains (excluding a reconnaissance role, but we have people for that too, so yeah).

$.02
 
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#9
Thank you sir, that explains it really well. My assumption, at this point, is that it's mostly just a shortage of SOFs that forces certain units into roles they weren't originally designed for sometimes. Hence, you end up with SEALs engaged in "Batalion level assualts in the mountains" as you said.
 

Diamondback 2/2

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#10
Thank you sir, that explains it really well. My assumption, at this point, is that it's mostly just a shortage of SOFs that forces certain units into roles they weren't originally designed for sometimes. Hence, you end up with SEALs engaged in "Batalion level assualts in the mountains" as you said.
Not really a lack of white SOF capabilities or personnel, but more so NSW wanting to get into the fight.

That said, JSOC only has so many units assigned for taskings. DEVGRU/ST6 or whatever they are calling themselves these days is one of those tasked units. Delta and ST6 share a mission scope within JSOC, and JSOC had a big peice of the pie in Afghanistan, primarily hunting down OBL. Hints why ST6 teams were in tora bora, along with several other SOF units, to include some conventional units. JSOC used what they had available to them, and I'm sure they have some significant lessons learned from that operation.

It's kinda how people were complaining about ST6 getting the mission to take out OBL in 2011. That was a JSOC mission, ST6 just happend to be the hitters on that mission.
 
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AWP

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#11
SUT is SUT, each branch has their own way of doing it.
This.

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SF and MARSOC take plenty of guys w/o in infantry background and they do "okay." Pararescue, CCT's, and SOWT's have zero infantry experience (minus the odd transfer here and there) and they seem to "okay" in a joint environment. Maybe NSW has a problem, but chalking it up to a lack of a specific background is garbage. Let's say there is a problem, with the amount of joint operations over the last decade+, there's been an opportunity to learn, so any failures are leadership-based. Besides, any shortcomings will be paid in blood by the SEALs so why wouldn't they modify their curriculum if it sucked?

The article makes sense until you think about the details.
 

Diamondback 2/2

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#12
This.

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SF and MARSOC take plenty of guys w/o in infantry background and they do "okay." Pararescue, CCT's, and SOWT's have zero infantry experience (minus the odd transfer here and there) and they seem to "okay" in a joint environment. Maybe NSW has a problem, but chalking it up to a lack of a specific background is garbage. Let's say there is a problem, with the amount of joint operations over the last decade+, there's been an opportunity to learn, so any failures are leadership-based. Besides, any shortcomings will be paid in blood by the SEALs so why wouldn't they modify their curriculum if it sucked?

The article makes sense until you think about the details.
I agree, but also think that in order to coordinate on those levels it takes practice and cohesion. AFSOF embeds their personnel into conventional and SOF units within the Army. I've not truly seen or heard of that from NSW. Quite the opposite, they tend to want to rely on other unit's for support of their own missions (i.e. QRF, etc). I don't know about MARSOC, so no comment. But Rangers conduct company and above level training, SF has to be expert's in it due to their UW/FID mission scope (hard to train and lead a batalion if you aren't an expert in it).

But I do completely agree that the ball is in NSW's court to learn and evolve.
 

Ocoka

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#13
Thank you sir, that explains it really well. My assumption, at this point, is that it's mostly just a shortage of SOFs that forces certain units into roles they weren't originally designed for sometimes. Hence, you end up with SEALs engaged in "Batalion level assualts in the mountains" as you said.
Remember too that back in '02-'04 units were being overtaxed with assignments, some quite out of their lane. Some senior officers seemed to be unsure of how best to utilize their SOF assets. And so there were some Marine Recon platoons in OIF doing FID/COIN with Iraqi units; conventional units in both theaters were being tasked with COIN missions without ample training; SOF/SF units were in very high demand everywhere.

NSW and SOCOM in general have had 16 years of real world/real combat to fine tune the way they do things, and it shows.
 
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#14
Remember too that a lot of this was going on in the early years of OEF/OIF when units were being overtaxed with assignments, some quite out of their lane. There were some Marine Recon platoons in OIF doing FID/COIN with Iraqi units, conventional units in both theaters tasked with COIN after "crash" training programs; SOF/SF units were in very high demand everywhere. NSW and SOCOM in general have had 16 years of real world/real combat to fine tune the way they do things. And it shows.
Yeah. I don't know. Some NSW units have had lots of hardcore deployments. Others, not so much. I would be hard pressed, or actually unable to find a single SF company that hasn't deployed to Iraq,Afghanistan or Syria in the last 5 years. There are SEaL teams that haven't deployed to combat since 2002.

Just saying...
 

Devildoc

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#15
SF and MARSOC take plenty of guys w/o in infantry background and they do "okay." Pararescue, CCT's, and SOWT's have zero infantry experience (minus the odd transfer here and there) and they seem to "okay" in a joint environment. Maybe NSW has a problem, but chalking it up to a lack of a specific background is garbage. Let's say there is a problem, with the amount of joint operations over the last decade+, there's been an opportunity to learn, so any failures are leadership-based. Besides, any shortcomings will be paid in blood by the SEALs so why wouldn't they modify their curriculum if it sucked?
But.... SF and MARSOC went through their respective basic training/boot camp, and all Marines go through MCT (some Marines will say it's a joke, I don't know), so the bricks in their foundation are there. SEALS, not so much. Almost none of them have held a rifle let a lone slept in a tent before they get to third phase. Not to knock their training or curricula, obviously it works. But their modus operandi focus on small unit tactics; to which they excel.

I think it is a case of their reach exceeding their grasp, believing their capabilities are more solid than they are. They think they can take on any/every mission, and that's just not the case. I do concur that they really take to heart lessons learned and revise their training and curricula accordingly.

I think there is some validity to this, maybe not to the extent implied though.

BTW, @AWP , I dig your avatar. Precious few know what a blue falcon is any more.....
 
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#17
At the end of the day it is comparing apples and oranges. Sure all SF soldiers are not combat arms before they go SF. But they are soldiers. They learn the basics from the beginning. They don't teach the same basics in the Navy. I have always said, and still believe, if they sent every SEAL hopeful to Sandhill for OSUT prior to BUD/S the attrition rate would halve. How many guys in BUDs have ever truly been cold and wet, the way the military makes you cold and wet. If the first time you are exposed to it quitting is encouraged, of course you will quit. If you also think at the end of that training your the only one who has ever been cold and wet, and you are gods gift to earth for being that way, then whatever...

I am bashing SEALs a bit right now. Having worked with them overseas though I think they truly fall I nto 3 categories. Guys who have seen some shit and stayed in, are keep chiefs, have worked in a joint environment and are absolute professionals, guys who did their pump, went to combat once, and are now gods gift to whatever they are doing(including still in), and the arrogant SEAL, who despite having done nothing other than PT and shoot still thinks he is the best thing in the world. The third type either becomes type one or type two.

There is a place for all 3. We need guys who think they are gods gift to earth, and are literally the best thing ever. We only need them doing certain things though.

I truly believe that you could take a motivated 18X and after SOPC send him to BUD/S and have an attrition rate only affected by injury and water comfort...
 

Devildoc

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#18
I largely agree. I have worked with them as well, have friends who are or have been SEALs, and for sure the organization covers the continuum from very cool, humble studs to turds. As an organization, they are cliquish, which makes them hard to integrate into combined ops. They want to do things their way; sometimes it works, just as often not. When they stay in their lane and work to their strengths they are very, very good. When they don't, well, there are books on that.

As for BUDS attrition, before 9/11 when there was a hell of a lot less out there about them, there really wasn't a coherent pre-BUDS program at boot camp and pre-BUDS. Now there is, but I don't know if it has moved the needle on attrition all that much. I do believe you could take the average Marine and put them in the land warfare phase and they will be dominant. I also believe it's the water that's the big equalizer.

I'm not bashing them; we're all pieces in the puzzle of the military strategy, and we all need to do out part.
 
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#19
I have always said, and still believe, if they sent every SEAL hopeful to Sandhill for OSUT prior to BUD/S the attrition rate would halve. How many guys in BUDs have ever truly been cold and wet, the way the military makes you cold and wet.
This may sound odd, but I heard a BUDS instructor say that the biggest cause of attrition is just lack of ankle flexibility (needed for running in boots) which causes shin splits and hairline fractures in a lot of trainees. Granted, I heard this on a youtube video so take it with a grain of salt...

BTW, your point about the extra pride being a factor of surviving a high attrition rate of BUDS selection (which itself is due to lack of proper acclimatization) is very interesting... I hadn't considered that before... It makes sense...
 
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