Their branch insignia, two crossed arrows, was worn during World War II by soldiers of the famed 1st Special Service Force.
Prospective SF enlisted soldiers must be specialists and above,
and officers must be promotable first lieutenants and above, before they can volunteer for
Special Forces Assessment and Selection, a 23-day exercise in mental and physical stamina
and one of several prerequisites for the Special Forces Qualification Course itself.
Before a soldier attends SFAS, he's briefed -- albeit minimally -- about what to expect. Recruiters at Fort Bragg, and other select Army installations that recruit SF soldiers, explain what they'll do as members of a 12-man SF Operational Detachment-A, or A-team, if they make it through SFAS's three grueling phases and subsequent training.
The first week includes a variety of psychological and physical evaluations. "A psychologist interviews each soldier to see if he's stable and whether he has lingering problems from the past," Wilcox said.
The soldier must also meet the Army Physical Fitness Test standard for 17- to 21-year-olds, scoring at least 206 points, completing a 50-meter swim in BDUs and boots and marching about 150 miles carrying a 50-pound rucksack and a weapon.
Week two includes more walking and marching but adds a 1.5-mile-long obstacle course with vertical obstacles -- 85 percent of which test upper body strength -- and a land navigation course.
"Some guys need several chances to make it through the challenging land navigation course called 'Star,'" said 1st Sgt. Joe Callahan, who runs the selection program. "They have to move across 18 kilometers of rough terrain with many obstacles, including hills and water. They can't use roads or flashlights, and they have to navigate at night with a heavy rucksack, no matter what the weather."
SF communications sergeant students learn about all Army communications equipment, plus the equipment unique to SF. They learn how to write, encrypt and decrypt messages and use the Emergency Fall-Back System (a message system unique to SF), said SFC Paul C. Petit, chief instructor for the course. Additionally, they learn about satellite communications and digital systems, how to transmit and receive secure data, and to build antennas. As a member of an A-team -- responsible for its own communication capability and survival -- the commo sergeant takes everything he needs to communicate with a forward observation base. In a final test, students deploy 1,000 miles from Fort Bragg and must establish a communication link to the installation.
| SF medical sergeant students "are card-carrying paramedics,
allowed to walk into hospital emergency rooms and practice medicine when they leave
here," said Lt. Col. John Chambers, assistant dean at the Special Operations Medical
Training Center and commander of its Medical Training Battalion. "In fact, they exceed the standard for paramedics," he
continued. "Paramedics don't 'sink' chest tubes or do 'cut downs' -- exposing a vein
to administer a needle. Our guys do. Because when they get out with an A-team, they'll
find themselves in places where they won't be able to turn to a doctor and ask, 'Should I
open the airway with a knife?'
"They must be able to operate in remote areas for an extended period of time, with a minimum of medical supervision and provide patients the full range of care they'd receive at a mobile Army surgical hospital," Chambers added.
Training for SF medical sergeants therefore includes four weeks on an ambulance crew in high-trauma-rate cities like New York City and Chicago, plus a four-week internship at a Public Health Service agency.
While on his hospital rotation, SSgt. Randall Sweeney, a recent graduate of the program, administered oxygen, prepared splints, performed an intubation (throat-tube airway), delivered two babies, assisted in a Cesarean section and performed CPR and defibrillation on two heart-attack victims, as well as performing other duties.
In the end, all SF candidates have one common experience --
Exercise Robin Sage -- an unconventional warfare field training exercise that puts
everything they've collectively learned to the test. When they've successfully completed
that, they've earned the green beret.
Specialized training in advanced skills, like military free fall and special operations target interdiction, follows after the soldier has been assigned to a special forces group. The latter teaches SF soldiers about non-standard and foreign sniper weapons. "SF snipers learn how to be self-reliant," said SFC Todd Thompson, instructor. "When a standard, conventional sniper runs out of ammo, he's out of it. When these guys complete this course, they'll be able to take Soviet ammunition, break it down and reload it into their own weapons.
"When I was with the 1st Bn., 10th SFG, in Germany, I did joint-combined training with special operations forces in Israel and Greece," Thompson reflected. "I've experienced glacier-rescue training with Austrian soldiers in the Austrian Alps, performed military free fall with Norwegians and assisted the Turkish government in recovering two downed UH-60 helicopters from a snow-covered mountain."
Sieradzki, on a sniper team with the 3rd SF Grp. in Kuwait, covered other special operations forces while they cleared the U.S. Embassy there and escorted the U.S. ambassador. Four members of the detachment later went into Iraq with U.S. State Department officials to do a battlefield assessment of the communications sites that had been bombed by the U.S. Air Force during Operation Desert Storm.
"I deployed to Ghana with a sergeant who gave classes to 45 Ghanians on how to construct buildings and obstacles, blow things up and make improvised grenades," said BNOC instructor Saam. "Another sergeant gave survival classes on how to snare animals and how to make shelters out of what you find in the jungle. An E-7 had the capabilities to be the local veterinarian, doctor and dentist."
|Soldiers in bright yellow flight suits hunch
down along the outer rim of the vertical wind tunnel, their headsets and goggles fastened
securely to protect them from the wind's velocity and the dizzying drone of the
3,600-horsepower engine creating it.
In the inner circle, black-suited instructors "fly" above the students' heads, ascending and descending at will within the 24-foot-tall structure that simulates an actual free fall at 120 miles per hour. Military free fall is one of several advanced-skills training courses offered to a special group of soldiers who call themselves "the quiet professionals," who "cannot be mass produced." Among their other skills are combat diving and target interdiction.
"I went out one day and taught a group of Thai soldiers how to free-fall," added SFC Sean Rundell, a member of the 1st SFG at Fort Lewis, Wash. "Starting out, they can't stay controlled. In three months, you've taught them. You take them 25,000 feet up, give them oxygen and watch them descend over a triple-canopy jungle. I can't explain the feeling of satisfaction that gives me.
Besides travel advantages and more responsibility than in
conventional units, SF soldiers have greater chances for promotion, Wilcox said.
"Each of our companies has six E-8s; a conventional company has one. And conventional companies are commanded by captains. Ours are led by majors," he said. Proficiency and jump pay, each $110, and a selective re-enlistment bonus that can be as high as $20,000 are other incentives for being SF-qualified.
"For 1997, our mission is to bring 1,500 enlisted soldiers and 330 officers to SFAS," said Wilcox. About 750 enlisted soldiers and 150 officers will actually complete the requirements for the green beret.
Taken from Story by Soldiers magazine May 1997, Story and Photos by Heike Hasenauer.