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The Reaper
04-29-2008, 09:46
FYI.

TR

http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/608139.html

Running, marching, enduring, Texas' Special Forces unit is born
Every month, more men show up for the chance to earn a green beret

BY CHRIS VAUGHN
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO -- Thirteen men surrendered a beautiful spring weekend to physically punish themselves.

The objective: to join Texas' most exclusive military club.

They came to a pocket of the rolling Hill Country from different places and backgrounds -- former Marines, college students, small-business owners, police officers -- in the hopes of one day wearing a beret, green in color.

Trust these men, with bleeding blisters soaking their boots and shoulders in need of a tube of Icy Hot and very little chance of actually succeeding in their goal: John Wayne got his beret the easy way.

"Masochists," said Andres, a 32-year-old who works for a wireless company in Austin and made his judgment after a grueling, hours-long ruck march.

Every month, though, more men like him are showing up for these tryouts to join the Army Special Forces, "silver wings upon their chest," as the Ballad of the Green Berets tells it. This month's was the largest group of candidates yet.

"As our soldiers have started training and as we're becoming more visible around Texas, we're getting more interest," said Bill, the sergeant major of Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group.
(Special Forces soldiers fall under U.S. Special Operations Command and tend to be very private. The Star-Telegram agreed to use only first names and agreed not to show recognizable faces.)

Returning to Texas

Texas, home to more than 80,000 active-duty soldiers and tens of thousands Army reservists and National Guardsmen, has not had a Special Forces unit in close to 15 years.

But in September, the Texas National Guard stood up its first-ever Special Forces unit, ending a years-long campaign to convince National Guard headquarters to put a company in the Lone Star State.

The Guard eventually prevailed, gaining Charlie Company out of Colorado and relocating it to San Antonio as part of a restructuring and expansion of Special Forces nationwide.

But staffing a Special Forces unit is not a matter of grabbing infantrymen, tank drivers and engineers here and there. It's the most selective part of the Army -- about 75 percent of applicants do not make it through -- and building an A-team takes time.

The company's first drill, in October, drew seven men, all but one of them officers.

Assembling the company

This month, 31 qualified Special Forces soldiers showed up for drill weekend, a faster-than-anticipated rate of growth that officials said proves their point that Texas can support a unit.

Many of the soldiers lived in Texas but drilled with out-of-state companies, and still more had gotten out of the military and are now rejoining. In seven months, the company is already at 37 percent strength. Special Forces companies are manned at 84, considerably smaller than conventional companies.

"We put ourselves on a two-year track to be at 100 percent," said Tim, a major from Denton who commands Charlie Company and works for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Like the rest of the Army, Special Forces are under unprecedented pressure from repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and normal deployments to other parts of the world, plus the explosion in the U.S. government's use of security contractors such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, which pay two to three times what the Army pays.

Of all the special operators in the military -- Navy SEALs and Air Force pararescue jumpers, for instance -- the Green Berets have the most varied responsibilities.

They are involved in conventional combat and unconventional warfare, typically working closely with the host nations' militaries. They are intimately involved in the hunt for terrorist leaders worldwide and reconnaissance of troubled areas, and they are required to be fluent in at least one foreign language.

'Thinking man's missions'

Most of their work is done quietly in places such as Colombia, Ecuador, the Philippines, Algeria and Nigeria, talking to illiterate conscripts about infantry tactics, international relief workers about a water project and diplomats about the security situation.

If anything will get Special Forces soldiers to roll their eyes, it is people who think Special Forces is like John Rambo, a one-man psychopathic killing machine.

"Don't get me wrong, we have some of those guys," said Tim, laughing, "but what we do are really thinking man's missions."

Many of the soldiers seem sensitive to their reputation of blood and guts.

"We get a lot of guys attracted to the glamorization of it," said Ed, a sergeant first class who speaks Spanish and Russian. "If all they want to do is kick in doors and blow [stuff] up, they're going to be disappointed. They should probably join the Marine Corps or the Rangers. It doesn't mean our guys don't enjoy doing that stuff, but it's far from all we do."

Still, the green beret is awfully tantalizing to the 13 men who turned up at Camp Bullis in northern Bexar County on April 18.

Tryout after tryout

James, a 30-year-old San Antonio resident and college student who fights in mixed martial arts for fun, is like most of the men -- naturally competitive. He served in the Marine Corps for eight years, pulled two tours in Iraq and fought in the hellish Fallujah campaign of late 2004.

But he wants more.

"When I was in Iraq, I helped train the Iraqi special forces," he said. "I like the idea of counterinsurgency."

What these men put themselves through amounted to a tryout for a tryout,
followed by another version of a tryout. You do not just raise a hand and get an invitation to the Special Forces course. Numerous "assessments" stand in the way, even before the 18-month qualifications course.

During 48 hours, they will do sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. They will run, and they will take tests on navigation, math, history, current events and government. They will march for miles with a 60-pound pack.

The Special Forces soldiers offer no encouragement and no feedback. They do not allow the candidates to wear watches. They do not tell them what is about to happen or offer a schedule. They do not tell the candidates what the standard, or goal, is for a particular test. They hardly talk to them at all.

At the end of an interview Sunday afternoon, the candidates are informed whether they can proceed to the next level, whether they can return in a few months for another shot or whether they can forget it. No more advice is offered.

"Mind games" is how one candidate put it. The military is, after all, largely a culture of constant commands and instant feedback.

Not here.

"This is not Ranger school or basic training," said Ed, the sergeant first class. "We're not going to jump on them or yell at them. They have to be motivated on their own. I mean, we're not doing anything particularly difficult here. They show us what they can do, and they either meet the standards or they don't."

A diverse roster

Only the most self-motivated, or stubborn, soldiers seem to make it out.

"You can't put a formula together and say that one type of guy is going to succeed," said Bill, the company's sergeant major.

The Special Forces soldiers in Charlie Company are as likely to be accountants as police officers, emergency room doctors as security company owners, chemists as firefighters.

Age is not necessarily an advantage for the younger men. The youngest candidates typically fared much worse than the older ones.
Robert, 36, a police officer in San Antonio, finished the "ruck march" in first place, remarking at the end of several sweat-drenched hours that he loved it.
He joined a National Guard infantry company five years ago but found it too "boring."

"SF gets better missions," he said. "And I'm a cop who is used to working the streets, close to citizens and getting a lot of action, both taking bad guys off the street but helping the good people. That's a lot like the Special Forces."

Attracted by respect

The Special Forces have always stood out -- and not just because of the green beret.

Members tend to call one another by their first names, no matter the rank, and they are famous, or infamous, in the regular Army for their relaxed grooming and uniform standards.

One tryout candidate joked that he wanted to join Special Forces so he didn't have to shave anymore.

But their mutual respect for one another, not a forced respect based on rank, is what attracted Andres, who served four years in the active Army and nine years in the National Guard. His younger brother just reported to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"I've got eight or nine years left, and I don't want to do it in a regular Guard unit," he said. "I want to be part of a team where everyone is a professional. I don't want to be around guys who are just 'there.'"

By late afternoon that Sunday, as the 13 candidates turned in their fake rifles and the keys to their huts, they hobbled into the room where an intimidating array of Green Berets sat.

Eight of them passed. They will now head to the 14-day selection course for another tryout.

The Reaper
04-29-2008, 09:47
Special Forces

Five things to know about these guys and the group:

1 To get in, you have to be in either the Army or National Guard, and you have to be a U.S. citizen because of the security clearance, although many Special Forces soldiers have been foreign-born.

2 President Kennedy authorized the Special Forces to wear the green beret.

3 Of the 2,800 soldiers who start the Special Forces process every year, 27 percent earn the beret. However, 45 percent of the National Guard citizen-soldiers make it all the way through.

4 Eighty-one Special Forces soldiers have died in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001. Three had ties to Tarrant County: Master Sgt. Kelly Hornbeck, Staff Sgt. Eric Caban and Sgt. First Class William Brown.

5 The Ballad of the Green Berets was written by one, Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, in 1966. It was a No. 1 hit.

CHRIS VAUGHN, 817-390-7547
cvaughn@star-telegram.com

austinsf
04-29-2008, 19:10
TR,

Thanks for posting the link. Mr. Vaughn covered our largest Special Forces Assessment Drill to date, with the highest number of guys invited to attend SFAS. This was also one of our first media engagements, so we were initially a little wary. We were pleasantly surprised to meet Chris and his photographer, however, as they were extremely user friendly and non-intrusive. Over all, we were happy to work with them, and would do it again if the opportunity presents itself.

Richard
04-29-2008, 20:25
The roots of patriotism and military service--active, guard, reserve, state guard-- run deep here in the former Republic of Texas. Reps of SFA CH XXXl attend the funeral of every SF brother of Texas ancestry returned for burial in North Texas soil. Kelly Hornbeck (10 SFG), Eric Caban (7 SFG), and William Brown and Justin Monschke (3 SFG) are all interred here in the North Texas area.

All were attended by an SF GO and the ODAs conducting the burial details were outstanding.

The news media aound here tend to place a different slant on their reporting than those along the lines of the Pravda on the Hudson (NYT).

Richard

Attachment is service for SFC Wm. R. Brown, 3rd SFGA, at the DFW National Cemetery.

mark46th
05-02-2008, 23:38
I joined C Co, 3rd battalion of the 12 SF Group(Reserve) after I got out of the Army. It was a weird outfit. I think I was the only NCO that had actually been deployed out of country and only one officer, we called Captain Rope. He always wore a length of rope on a pistol belt, Vietnamese jump wings and 3 combat jump stars on his American jump wings. That seemed odd to me. I know SOG tried a few parachute insertions and I know some of the guys who did them but he wasn't one of them. There were some good guys in the outfit, a lot of cops, sheriff deputies and a DEA guy with long hair. But none were completely SF Qualified or ever been deployed. I only stayed in one year. Probably for the best. My Team Sergeant was killed in a helicopter crash on a routine trip that I always went on with him. Luck of the Irish, I guess.

SF-TX
05-04-2008, 10:03
non se·qui·tur

a statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.
a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it.

Guy
05-04-2008, 12:04
non se·qui·tur

a statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.
a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it.
Keep up the good work down there!

Stay safe.