It wasn’t that long ago that a friend of mine, still on active duty told me that an SF officer had told a battle space owner that SF doesn’t do village security operations, SF is there for direct action. Now this is the sort of absurd impression one might expect a brand new 18X just starting the Q Course would have; but to think that an officer could hold to such nonsense is troubling. It also helps to explain just how in a time when SF should be at the pinnacle of its modern history, it seems to be struggling for relevance and trust within the military.
When conventional army soldiers would ask me about SF I would tell them it’s not about being “Rambo”, its about trying to be like Lawrence of Arabia. It was amazing to me how many people looked at SF as just another high speed “commando unit”. Even many people within SF would talk about not wanting to have to deal with indigenous forces. I’m not talking about the typical frustration that arises from fighting through language and cultural barriers in order to get the job done, we have all experienced that; I’m talking about green berets whose whole idea of being on an ODA was absorbed by the direct action component. Now don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t like direct action missions? And I am certainly not arguing that DA shouldn’t be a prominent part of what we do; but ask around sometime, and see how many frustrated SF guys you run into that have noticed that our “by, through, with” charter has been reduced to training up a scout platoon so you can have the minimum number of indigenous forces needed to conduct your operation. We are supposed to be more than that…aren’t we?
What peaked my interest in Special Forces as a young Infantry fire team leader was not jumping out of airplanes, or the typical kicking in doors. I could get that in the infantry. What convinced me was watching the early days of Afghanistan where 300 SF soldiers out in the middle of nowhere with some air support, cash on hand a rag tag army of Northern Alliance tribes and most importantly FREEDOM of ACTION manged to do in a few months what nearly the whole military establishment said couldn’t be done. A similar episode happened in Northern Iraq. Historians seem to forget that the initial plans for invading Northern Iraq included an entire Mechanized Division as the main effort with an SF Group and Kurdish Peshmerga supporting on the flank. When all of a sudden the Turkish government wouldn’t allow the Divison to stage out of Turkey, our force composition changed, but the mission didn’t. Once again Special Forces soldiers accomplished incredible things with limited resources, operating by, through and with indigenous forces.
Green Berets have a mission and a unique history. SF candidates needs to be immersed in green beret culture. Teaching that history is needed to reinforce not only our heritage but the reason for our regiments existence. It is a great mission, and we are the only unit in the military to have it as our charter. The only way we can expect to recapture our original purpose and remain the genuine subject matter experts is if we treat unconventional warfare and counter insurgency as the separate and unique culture that it is. Try as they may to write a one size fits all counter insurgency manual for the military, we know that such operations are not merely a question of different equipment or strategy, but of mindset. That mindset is not something created over night, but rather the work of both training and natural disposition. Special Forces needs to remain the premier UW/COIN force in the world, and to achieve this we will need to recruit, cultivate and retain the right kind of people, enlisted and officers. That is done by providing ODA’s with the people they need and the trust and support they require to do their job effectively.
Clear objective…basic left and right limits…go forth.
Former 18B and 18F
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